After a slow start, Michigan eventually ran away from Northwestern. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
In a game that will be memorable only for being forgettable, Michigan slowly pulled away from Northwestern after a close, repulsive first half.
The Wildcats inched their way out to an early nine-point lead by hitting the occasional shot while the Wolverines were completely befuddled by Northwestern's matchup zone, choosing mostly to shoot over it to no avail. Michigan scored only five points in the game's first ten minutes. They went 3-for-15 on three-pointers in the opening stanza with two of those makes coming in a late 10-0 run to close the half.
Northwestern couldn't capitalize, however, because Michigan's defense was every bit as stingy. After a quick start, they scored five points over the final 13 minutes of the half, including a seven-minute scoreless stretch to end it.
Given halftime to adjust, John Beilein's squad figured out the zone, scoring 1.19 point per possession in the second half. Charles Matthews repeatedly cut to wide open space on the baseline, finishing with a team-high 14 points on 11 shots with seven rebounds and three steals. Great ball movement led to 4-for-10 three-point shooting on a series of wide-open looks.
While Michigan warmed up, Northwestern struggled to get good looks. [Campredon]
Unlike their foe, Michigan held up on defense, keeping Northwestern well below a point per possession with turnovers on over a quarter of them for the second straight half. Over the whole game, they held the Wildcats to their third-worst offensive performance of the season.
Michigan won comfortably with a balanced attack. Five players finished with at least eight points, including the increasingly used backcourt duo of Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman and Jordan Poole; both also dished out three assists apiece with no turnovers, and Poole whipped around some really impressive passes that didn't immediately lead to buckets. (Related: we'll see that backcourt more in certain late-game situations.) Moe Wagner scored all eight of points in the second half and did strong work on the boards all evening; Jon Teske, meanwhile, grabbed five rebounds in just 11 minutes.
After the initial zone adjustment period, there were only two major downsides. While Duncan Robinson managed to sneak into the gaps for eight points, he missed all six of his threes despite some really good looks. Then, in the game's final moments, Zavier Simpson took a hard shot to the back when Isaiah Livers failed to alert him to Dererk Pardon's oncoming screen. Simpson spent a possession down at midcourt before eventually walking off; he was in obvious pain on the bench, but hopefully it's not something that lingers.
At 7-4 in the Big Ten, Michigan moves into a tie for fourth place with Nebraska. They get the rest of the week to prepare for a plummeting Minnesota squad to come to Crisler on Saturday afternoon.
[Hit THE JUMP for a few more of MG's photos and the box score.]