Author: Anthony Winker
Until about 2:01 CST, Sunday, February 20 was turning out to be a fabulous day for the Wisconsin Badgers men's basketball team. They had just put the finishing touches on a 77-63 blowout victory over the Michigan Wolverines, a team that was a trendy national title pick entering this season. Michael Finley, one of two 2,000 point scorers in Badgers program history, had his No.24 raised to the rafters of the Kohl Center forever. Johnny Davis continued to add to his national player of the year resume with a vintage 25 point, six rebound performance, hitting those same pullup one-legged jumpers that weren't falling during a slight mid-season slump. All five UW starters had double-digit points to go along with that. However, after the clock showed zeros, all hell broke loose and in a weekend where No.2 Auburn lost, the Daytona 500 was run, and the NBA All-Star game was held, the biggest storyline of the weekend wasn't even the game itself.
An Interesting Final Minute
Some context for you. With 15 seconds remaining on the clock, Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard called a timeout up by 15 points. Additionally, Michigan had just forced one turnover on the Badgers third-stringers and were looking to force another. Inexplicably, Michigan was employing a full-court press, or rather 5-pressure if you asked Michigan head coach Juwan Howard postgame.
Those third-stringers struggled to break the pressure once and Michigan had just knocked the ball out of bounds again. By calling a timeout, Gard saw a teachable moment for some oft-used players. If you don't think that's good enough reasoning for calling timeout, that's valid. However, there was another reason as well. Gard's timeout also reset the 10-second clock that every possession starts with to get the ball over the midcourt line. The clock was at four seconds, meaning that without the timeout, UW would have had just four seconds to break the 5-pressure, to avoid a backcourt violation and the subsequent turnover. Howard, clearly unhappy, spent the duration of that timeout staring down the UW huddle.
Coming out of the timeout, UW guard Carter Gilmore inbounded the basketball to Jordan Davis who was subsequently fouled by Michigan's Jace Howard in what seemed to be a clear act of retaliation to the timeout, extending the game even further. Gard gave Howard a smirk following that one. Davis made 1 of 2 free throws and then Michigan made a basket in the waning seconds. Maybe Howard had the over in the game? That last basket allowed the 138 point spread to hit. However, that wasn't all she wrote. A sure-to-be-interesting handshake line was next.
The Handshake Line Entertainment
The announcers on the CBS broadcast could sense something was coming. Howard didn't lead his team's handshake line as is customary, instead falling in towards the end. Once Howard reached Gard, he hit him with the “I'm gonna remember that,” and kept walking.
Gard grabbed Howard's arm in an attempt to stop him and explain why he called the timeout. Howard was having none of it and a shouting match would soon ensue (it was there we got the fabulous image of the 6'9 Juwan Howard standing over the big, bad Greg Gard and later saying he was the one who felt he needed to protect himself. That will always be funny).
Some players, coaches and security guys started to get into the middle of them. Eventually, Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft joined in and likely said something to Howard. That prompted Howard to shake off the grip of Michigan star Hunter Dickinson, who was attempting to pull him away from the scrum, and strike Krabbenhoft with an open right hand in the head. That's when this not-so-run-of-the-mill scrum devolved into a full-on brouhaha. Punches were thrown amongst players; video showed Michigan players Moussa Diabate and Terrance Williams II and Wisconsin's Jahcobi Neath throwing hands.
Eventually, the fight was broken up and Michigan was forced to walk dejectedly off the floor with chants of “N-I-T” raining down from the enraged Kohl Center crowd.
For Juwan Howard, no matter what sort of extenuating circumstances exist, you absolutely cannot strike another person. As a leader of men, he set the precedent that throwing a punch was ok for the players and only after the original strike were punches thrown.
Furthermore, this isn't exactly an isolated incident. During last season's Big Ten Tournament, in a game between Michigan and Maryland, Howard was hit with a double technical and ejected and had to be restrained from going after Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon, saying that he would kill him.
Lastly, Howard should not have even been mad to begin with. Why was he even pressing in that situation? If he just let Wisconsin inbound the basketball, they're perfectly content just dribbling out the clock. By pressing and putting Wisconsin in that situation the timeout was logical and well within reason. Is Gard supposed to just hang his players out to dry? Absolutely not.
Howard was hit with a $40,000 fine as well as a suspension for the remainder of Michigan's five regular-season games.
In addition, Diabate and Williams II were both handed one-game suspensions.
Wisconsin, although seemingly the victims here, is not fully absolved from blame. Gard could have and probably should have just let Howard walk by and have dealt with it postgame. I get why he wanted to explain himself, but clearly, Howard was in his feelings and this was not the best time to do that.
Gard's only punishment was a $10,000 fine.
Jahcobi Neath, just like the two players on Michigan was handed a one-game suspension for his actions.
The wild card here is Krabbenhoft. He clearly said something that set Howard off, as that's what prompted Howard to rejoin the scrum and hit him. What he said is unknown to this point, and if it's the wrong thing, that could land him in some hot water as well. It's worth noting that the players defended him postgame, with Brad Davison going as far as to call him family. There is no word yet of whether he is in any trouble.
For Wisconsin, they have bigger and better things to set their sights on. They're in the hunt for the Big Ten title. The now No.13 Badgers are a half-game back from the Purdue Boilermakers for first in the Big Ten, and have an absolutely massive matchup next Tuesday, March 1st, against those Boilermakers at the Kohl Center.
This was the only scheduled meeting between Wisconsin and Michigan, but what would be extremely interesting would be if they were to meet in the Big Ten Tournament. The Badgers currently sit tied for 2nd and Michigan is tied for 7th. It could happen.
However, brawl aside it was a huge day for Wisconsin basketball. They raised one of their legends to the rafters and picked up win number 21 on the season over a team fighting for their lives. For the Badgers, it's time to move on. They have bigger things to worry about.