NEW YORK — For Michigan, make it 2-for-2.
The Wolverines entered Saturday afternoon playing their best basketball of the season and carried it over one more time, once again against rival Michigan State.
U-M got 15 points each from Moritz Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson and successfully defended MSU for 40 minutes to score a 75-64 win over the top-seeded Spartans in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament in front of a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden.
With the win, Michigan (27-7) advances to Sunday’s final (4:30 p.m., CBS) to play defend its 2017 Big Ten Tournament title against either Penn State or Purdue.
U-M has now won eight straight games (three straight against MSU) and is 7-0 in its last two Big Ten tournaments.
On Saturday, the first 30 minutes featured hot and cold stretches from the Wolverines, who stormed out to a 14-6 advantage early before going on different droughts of seven and six straight misses, highlighted by an 0 of 6 first half from Wagner, to trail by three at the break.
The second half started with Michigan finding more rhythm, though, as Wagner got involved by attacking the basket and scoring seven of U-M’s nine points in a 9-0 run to reclaim the lead. The Spartans opened the second half 3 of 13 from the floor, and after a Abdur-Rahkman triple with 11:51 to go, it was Michigan in front, 42-37.
That lead would grow to seven 4 minutes later, when Abdur-Rahkman and Simpson converted back-to-back layups to push Michigan in front 54-47 with 7:10 left. MSU eventually pulled within five after a 3-pointer from Matt McQuaid, but Abdur-Rahkman answered again with a 3-pointer at the shot clock horn to make it 62-54 with just 2:48 to go.
The Wolverines looked like they might be on their way to slamming the door up nine and on a 2-on-1 break, but Miles Bridges picked off a Charles Matthews pass and allowed McQuaid to can another 3, cutting the lead to six with 2:07 left.
But Michigan had an answer, getting three straight stops and free throws from Matthews and Simpson to go back up 10 just 30 seconds later.
The Wolverines successfully survived MSU’s late foul parade, shooting 20 of 27 from the free-throw line after halftime, to clinch the victory.
Michigan missed a ton of open looks during the first half, but allowed the Spartans to stay in the game on the offensive glass. MSU had nine offensive rebounds during the opening stanza, but the Wolverines cut that number to just two after halftime.
The Wolverines have been much better on the boards this season and the second half proved it again. The Wolverines did a much better job of sealing off after MSU misses and wound up out-rebounding the Spartans, 36-33, overall.
Wagner led the team with eight, but Simpson added seven and Matthews added six.
Michigan, once again, took away MSU point guard Cassius Winston with another tough defensive showing from Simpson.
The Spartans’ star sophomore, who was checked at times by both Simpson and Matthews, was just 3 of 10 from the field.
Bridges, MSU’s star sophomore, had 17 points but fouled out after going 7 of 18 from the floor.
Defensively, U-M held MSU to just 38.1 percent shooting overall.
U-M’s NCAA Tournament seed continues to rise as the Wolverines now have six Quadrant 1 wins and seem to be in a position to push to an opening-round spot at Little Caesars Arena when the tournament begins.
The Wolverines were projected as a No. 5 seed by both ESPN and CBS before Saturday’s game, but will surely move up again. If Michigan can win Sunday, it could move even.