Last season, Northwestern used a thrilling home comeback victory over Michigan to create optimism heading into the off-season.
This season, the Wolverines used a home rally of their own to hold off the Wildcats and keep their tournament hopes alive.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored a game-high 19 points, and the Wolverines used a late 10-2 run to pull away and defeat the Wildcats, 72-63.
Northwestern led by as many as 13 in the first half, but the Wolverines methodically closed the gap. Michigan tied the game with 11 minutes to play, took their first lead with nine minutes left, and their first two-possession advantage with 3:40 to play.
With the loss, the Wildcats fall to 1-10 this season against the RPI top 100. They’ve come close to victory several times against college basketball’s best, but have only sealed the deal once, in early January against Wisconsin. Northwestern has taken care of business against weaker competition, and has parlayed a 16-1 record against teams outside the RPI’s top 100 into a respectable 17-11 overall record.
The Wolverines, on the other hand, survived the Wildcats to improve to 16-0 against teams outside the RPI top 100. Michigan also boasts three wins against the RPI’s top 50 teams and sits squarely on the tournament bubble with chances to boost their resume in their two remaining regular-season games against Wisconsin and Iowa.
For the second straight year, Bryant McIntosh found himself at the center of the game’s critical moment in Ann Arbor. Last year, he scored only four points, but missed a point-blank shot before the buzzer that would have sent the game to overtime.
Wednesday, McIntosh had another quiet night by his standards, contributing only two points in the game’s first 36 minutes. Still, the Wildcats’ top foul shooter went to the line with 3:45 to play for a one-and-one that could have cut Michigan’s lead to a single point. McIntosh missed the front end, and Alex Olah tipped the ball towards the opposing basket and into the eager arms of Derrick Walton, Jr., who secured the ball at mid-court and took it the other way for a layup. This four-point swing gave the Wolverines a five-point lead with 3:40 minutes to play, and Michigan used late free throws to pad their margin of victory.
Michigan is one of six teams in the country that gets more than 40% of its points from three-pointers, but the Wolverines got most of their first-half offense from the paint. Michigan made a move from that nine-point deficit, using a combination of dribble drives by Abdur-Rhakman and cuts to the basket by their big men to stay within two possessions. For the game, Michigan outscored Northwestern in the paint, 32-18, and took 25 free throws to the Wildcats’ nine.
Then, the Wolverines, or more specifically Aubrey Dawkins, started hitting threes. Dawkins made two three-pointers to tie the game at 44, the game’s first deadlock since the opening tip. The teams traded baskets for a while, as Michigan used free throws and tip-ins to keep pace with the Wildcats’ floaters and dunks. Olah scored his 18th and 19th points, matching his conference-season-high, on a floater which gave the Wildcats a 54-52 lead with just over five minutes to play, but Dawkins’ third triple of the second half gave Michigan a three-point cushion.
Michigan didn’t make a three in the game’s first 19 minutes, but the Wolverines inbounded the ball with six seconds left in the half and rotated it to Duncan Robinson. Robinson drained a buzzer-beating three, the team’s first made triple in nine attempts, to cut Northwestern’s lead to one, but the Wildcats brought their lead back up to nine early in the second stanza on a long two from McIntosh and two corner threes from Falzon.
Northwestern led for the entire first half, scoring the game’s first 10 points and stretching their lead to 17-4 after a four-point possession which featured a Gavin Skelly and-one, an offensive rebound on his missed free throw, and an Alex Olah mid-range jumper.
Olah, who always seems to play well against the Wolverines, scored 14 first-half points, including a couple of nice post moves and a top-of-the-key three. Olah had scored more than 14 points in only one previous Big Ten game. He scored only five points in the second half, and finished the game at 19, matching his best offensive output of the conference season.
Michigan used a 13-2 run to claw back into the game, trimming a 17-4 Wildcat lead down to 19-17. Abdur-Rahkman paced the Wolverines with nine first-half points, including three free throws after Sanjay Lumpkin fouled him shooting a triple.
Lumpkin picked up his fourth personal foul with eight minutes left in the game going for an offensive rebound, which put him on the bench until the 3:30 mark. He lasted 47 seconds before fouling out going after another offensive board.
Gavin Skelly gave the Wildcats 19 energetic minutes, scoring eight points including a clutch three midway through the second half.
Tre Demps finished with a respectable 14 points and made a late three to cut Michigan’s lead to 62-59, but the senior couldn’t repeat his late heroics from last season, and the Wildcats continue their search for a late-season, momentum-building, RPI top 100 victory.
The ‘Cats face Rutgers at home on Saturday afternoon. The Scarlet Knights dressed six scholarship players for their mid-week game at Minnesota, and dropped to 0-15 in conference play with an 83-61 loss to the Gophers.