Angry about Wisconsin calling a late timeout, Michigan coach Juwan Howard began arguing in the postgame handshake line.
Moments later, he hit a Badgers assistant in the head, and mayhem followed.
The Wolverines' inability to boost their NCAA Tournament credentials was the least of their concerns after a 77-63 loss Sunday at No. 15 Wisconsin. Their head coach could be facing major discipline after his poke turned a pushing-and-shoving scrum into a punch-filled brawl.
Howard struck Wisconsin assistant Joe Krabbenhoft after jawing with Wisconsin coach Greg Gard during the handshake line. The Big Ten said it planned to "take swift and appropriate disciplinary action when it completes its review.”
During his postgame news conference, Howard said he didn't like Wisconsin calling for a timeout with 15 seconds left and the Badgers leading by 15.
“I thought it was not necessary at the moment, especially being a large lead,” Howard said.
Gard said he called the timeout because his reserves were in the game and only had four seconds to get the ball past midcourt. A timeout gives them 10 seconds.
“I was not going to put them in position, where the ball had already gotten knocked out of bounds, to have to break a press in four seconds,” Gard said.
After the game, Howard pointed a finger at Gard while complaining about the late move. Later on, Howard reached through a crowd to get to Krabbenhoft — replays showed Howard had his hand open as he struck Krabbenhoft on the left side of the head.
Players from each side got involved in the skirmish, and video appeared to show Michigan's Moussa Diabate and Wisconsin's Jahcobi Neath throwing punches.
Howard said he reacted after someone from Wisconsin put hands on him. He said that “at that point, I felt it was time to protect myself.”
Video showed Gard had his hands touching Howard’s arm or wrist area while trying to explain why he called the timeout.
“Someone touched me, and I think it was very uncalled for, for them to touch me, as we were verbalizing and communicating with one another,” Howard said. "That’s what escalated it.”
Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh said he already had contacted Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren about the situation, adding that Wisconsin had staff members who were “affected and injured."
“There’s no room, no space for conduct like that in any competition, much less a Big Ten competition," McIntosh said. "The Big Ten takes pride in sportsmanship. The Big Ten takes pride in acting with class. That didn’t happen today.”
Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel issued a statement saying that he had apologized to McIntosh and that Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman had contacted Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank “to apologize for the totally unacceptable behavior."
“There is no excuse for any of our staff or student-athletes to get into a physical altercation with others regardless of instigating factors,” Manuel said.
The Big Ten issued a statement saying it's “aware of a physical altercation involving Michigan head coach Juwan Howard” and that it's assessing the incident. Howard said he'd respect whatever decision the Big Ten makes.
“We will review the situation more thoroughly and work with the Big Ten Conference as they determine their disciplinary actions and will determine if further disciplinary actions are warranted,” Manuel said.
This isn’t Howard’s first high-profile incident with another Big Ten coach.
Last season, Howard got into a shouting match with then-Maryland coach Mark Turgeon during the conference tournament. Howard had to be restrained. He drew two technical fouls and was ejected from a game Michigan ended up winning 79-66.
Johnny Davis scored 25 points to help Wisconsin (21-5, 12-4) break open a close game. Wisconsin outscored Michigan 44-25 over the last 18 1/2 minutes.
Davis went on a personal 9-0 run and blocked a shot in a span of 2 minutes, 12 seconds to give the Badgers a 56-41 lead.
Hunter Dickinson scored 21 points for Michigan (14-11, 8-7), which shot just 4 of 25 from 3-point range. Eli Brooks had 14 points, and DeVante’ Jones finished with 11.
Steven Crowl scored 11 points for Wisconsin, and Brad Davison, Chucky Hepburn and Tyler Wahl added 10 each.
Wahl said nothing out of the ordinary occurred during the game that could have foretold what would happen afterward.
“I would say it was just a good 40-minute basketball game — physical game, Big Ten basketball,” Wahl said.
That all changed in the postgame handshake line.
Wisconsin raised former Badgers star Michael Finley’s No. 24 jersey to the rafters during a halftime ceremony. Wisconsin’s pep band wore white No. 24 T-shirts throughout the game.
Finley joins Ab Nicholas (No. 8) and Frank Kaminsky (No. 44) as the only Wisconsin players to have their jerseys in the rafters. Those three numbers are still able to be worn by current and future Badgers.
“It wasn’t something that I came to the university as a goal,” Finley said before the game. “My main focus was to win as many basketball games as I could, put the Wisconsin basketball program on the map, and whatever happened after that, happened.”
Finley, the first Badger to score 2,000 career points, played for Wisconsin from 1991-95 and led the 1994 team to the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 47 years. He played in the NBA from 1995-2010, won a title with the San Antonio Spurs in 2007 and earned two All-Star selections.
Michigan: The Wolverines squandered an opportunity to boost their NCAA Tournament credentials and heard the Wisconsin crowd chanting “NIT” in the final seconds. But the bigger issue for now is the immediate future of Howard and what discipline he could be facing.
Wisconsin: Davis is the guy who could carry the Badgers on a deep postseason run, but the performances of Crowl and Hepburn also offer cause for encouragement.
By following up a victory at Indiana with this home triumph over Michigan, Wisconsin should move up a few spots Monday as it tries to get back into the top 10.
Michigan: Hosts Rutgers on Wednesday.
Wisconsin: At Minnesota on Wednesday.