With a home win over a struggling Northwestern team—one without Vic Law, perhaps its best player—Michigan set the record for the best start in program history at 17-0. The Wolverines scored over 1.4 points per possession in an outstanding first half, and were on cruise control for the rest of the game. Zavier Simpson was the headliner tonight for Michigan, scoring a career-high 24 points in response to Northwestern’s intentional indifference.
For the second straight game, Michigan got off to a fast start. The Wolverines opened with a 10-0 run: Ignas Brazdeikis put back a miss, Jon Teske hit two mid-range shots, a nice baseline play got Iggy another bucket, and Zavier Simpson banked in a contested sky hook. Northwestern got back into the game, as Ryan Taylor got a four point play and the Wildcat offense woke up a little bit. Northwestern eventually closed the gap to 2 with about 11 minutes in the half, but were unable to ever take a lead in this game, as Michigan kept up the scoring pace.
Michigan led 21-18 when Iggy found Isaiah Livers for a three; on the next possession, an awkward two-man game between Poole and Livers ended with Poole hitting an isolation three, and the lead was back up to 9. Dererk Pardon and Ryan Taylor each scored in double figures in the first half for Northwestern and kept within striking distance for a while, but those threes were the beginning of what was an extended 29-10 Michigan run to close the half — and effectively end the game.
Teske was phenomenal in the first half, scoring a few early baskets and playing aggressive defense on the other end of the floor. It was Teske who turned the game into a rout: within the span of about two and a half minutes towards the end of the half, Michigan’s center scored 11 points. He hit a three in response to an off-balance Taylor triple; sealed Barret Benson for good post position and a layup, then hit back-to-back open pick-and-pop threes set up by Eli Brooks. Charles Matthews and Simpson each scored easily after steals, and Michigan was up 22 at the break.
Michigan’s offense—which was unstoppable in the first half, as the Wolverines shot 14-17 on twos—went cold to start the second. Iggy scored on the opening possession after Teske sealed the help on a layup attempt, but Michigan only managed to score four points over eight minutes. For a while, Matthews was Michigan’s only source of offense — he made a euro-step layup, scored off an offensive rebound, and rejected a side ball-screen to dunk over Miller Kopp for an and-one. Everyone else was quiet though, and Northwestern trimmed Michigan’s lead to 13.
Simpson helped slam the door shut. Northwestern elected to defend him with Pete Nance, a bench big who was thrust into a starting role with the absence of Law, and had Nance play in the paint while Simpson was spotting up on the perimeter and sink under Simpson ball screens — clearly daring him to shoot. Simpson scored 12 points and made two threes in the first half, but Northwestern didn’t change its defense. Late in the game, Simpson made four straight jumpers: a three after getting the ball back following a steal, a late-clock mid-range step back, an open corner three, and an audacious step-back three off a screen. He took a heat check and missed, but he’d earned it.
Michigan scored 1.25 points per possession over the entire game, and they held Northwestern to under a point per possession — despite a standout performance from Pardon, who scored an efficient 20 points. The absence of the top wing on a Northwestern team that was already without a point guard led to predictably disjointed offense. With how well Michigan's offense was playing (Simpson and Teske in particular), the Wildcats didn't have a chance.
The Wolverines have the week off before traveling to Wisconsin for a big matchup with the Badgers on Saturday. Michigan’s still one of two undefeated teams in the country, and Michigan and Michigan State have already jumped out to an early lead in the conference race (with Maryland lurking).
[Box score after the JUMP]