By Andrew McCabe
Just minutes after tip-off, with 15:23 to go in the first half, Northwestern found itself trailing No. 20 Michigan by ten points, falling into an early 13-3 hole.
But the Wildcats — as they have failed to do so many times this season — responded to their opponent’s early punch and gradually pulled away in the second half, surging to a 61-52 upset of the Wolverines.
It was no doubt a strong start for Michigan, but the Wildcats were evidently sloppy offensively. Ball movement was erratic, shots were forced, and Michigan was obliterating the zone defense.
A spark was ignited though, and the Wildcats jumped right back into the game and closed in on the Wolverines throughout the first half, minimizing the deficit to only three points heading into intermission. This first-half offensive effort was largely augmented by the ‘Cats’ ability to force turnovers — Michigan uncharacteristically coughed up five giveaways in the opening frame.
And when the offense turned on its jets early in the second half, it never turned them off. The ‘Cats took their first lead of the game — a two-point lead via a deep ball from Vic Law just three minutes into the second half — and never looked back.
Bryant McIntosh led the Wildcats, playing 35 minutes and scoring 24 points on 8 of 11 shooting, including a perfect 3 of 3 beyond the arc. He also added five assists and had just one turnover.
Scottie Lindsey, who has had recent difficulty with his jump shot, also settled into a groove against the Wolverines’ defense, scoring 19 points and shooting 4 of 6 beyond the arc.
Those performances, both for McIntosh and Lindsey, but also for the team as a whole, were considerably better than last week’s matchup in Ann Arbor, when the Wildcats turned the ball over 16 times and scored just 47 points.
The ‘Cats’ defense also deserves much of the credit for the upset, as it continued to force long possessions from the Wolverines, eliminating any good looks from the interior and forcing Michigan to shoot 4 of 20 from beyond the arc. The Wolverines didn’t make a triple in the second half and went more than nine minutes without a field goal down the stretch. The 52 points scored by Michigan ties their season-low, which came in a loss to Nebraska. on January 18.
The ‘Cats found an offensive and defensive groove just when they needed it; a loss against Michigan might not have been a nail in the at-large coffin, but it would have been pretty darn close. The dream is still a long reach, an extension of a poor beginning to the season, but a win against Michigan, Northwestern’s first marquee win, provides a slight glimmer of hope.
The Wildcats will try to maintain their recent momentum this Saturday when they hit the road for the first of two late-season matchups with Maryland. Tip-off from College Park is slated for 11 a.m. CST.