Michigan endures another overtime disaster
Evanston, Ill. — To foul, or not to foul — that is the question.
Michigan coach John Beilein has faced the familiar dilemma of deciding whether to foul intentionally with a three-point lead hundreds of times, with some modicum of success.
For one of the few times in his 37-year coaching career, Beilein was on the wrong side of it.
Beilein opted not to foul in the final seconds and Tre Demps burned the Wolverines with a pair of 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds of the first overtime — helping Northwestern snatch a thrilling 82-78 double-overtime win at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Tuesday night.
"There's maybe 10 times in 1,100 or 1,200 that has happened, where it ties it with a three or lose it with a three. To have it happen twice in the same game, that's a new one for me," Beilein said. "I feel really bad about it because there are some things I could have done differently."
It's the fourth straight overtime loss this season for the Wolverines (14-15, 7-10 Big Ten), who have lost seven of the last nine games overall and will finish the regular season at Crisler Center against Rutgers — and finish the regular season on Saturday against Rutgers, needing a win and a decent run in next week's Big Ten Tournament to assure even an NIT Tournament bid.
Zak Irvin finished with a career-high 28 points and 11 rebounds and Aubrey Dawkins added a career-best 21 points for UM, which had beaten Northwestern (15-15, 6-11) seven straight times.
Michigan led, 71-65, with 16.4 seconds left after Spike Albrecht split a pair of free throws. Demps (20 points) hit the first 3-pointer, cutting the lead in half with 9.7 second remaining. After a turnover on the inbounds play, Beilein had the quandary of whether to foul the Wildcats and avoid the chance at a tying 3-pointer.
"We chose not to foul as a team. Coach Beilein asked us and we said, 'No way in hell he hits another (triple). Sure enough, that happened," Albrecht said. "It was majority rules. Everyone was on board with it. What were the chances he'd hit another one?
Beilein generally doesn't ask his players their preference, especially in late-game situations, but in this instance, he said he wanted to try something different and give his players some accountability in playing defense.
"The first time, it was, 'No, we weren't going to foul.' Just work it and make the guy make a tough shot," Beilein said. "The second time, I said, 'We have to think about this and they said, 'No, we're not fouling.'"
Demps was able to get a shot off and hit the 3-pointer to tie it at 71 with 2 seconds remaining in the first overtime.
In the second overtime, Alex Olah (25 points, 12 rebounds) opened with a 3-pointer and added a basket to put the Wildcats ahead by four.
But Irvin answered with a triple to cut the deficit to 76-75 with 1:33 left. Vic Law followed with a triple and Demps split a pair of free throws for an 80-75 advantage. Irvin hit another 3-pointer with 20.4 seconds remaining, but Michigan couldn't get another answer.
"We've had a lot of tough overtime games this year that we haven't been able to put away," Irvin said. "This one definitely hurts. We had several opportunities when we were up five and could have gone up seven and in the second overtime.
"You have to give it to their coaching staff and players: they played one hell of a game."
Michigan had its biggest lead, 41-29, with 17:18 left in the second half, after a 3-pointer by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman but Northwestern followed with a 16-3 run over the next 11½ minutes to pull ahead by one.
UM shot 1-of-13 during the drought, with only a 3-pointer by Dawkins. Olah scored 10 during the stretch — including three straight baskets in the paint — for the lead.
But Irvin ended the run with a jumper, Albrecht followed with a jumper and Abdur-Rahkman added a 3-pointer with 2:49 remaining to give the Wolverines a 51-45 advantage. Senior JerShon Cobb (14 points) halved the lead with a triple and after an Irvin bank shot, Cobb split a pair of free throws.
Demps also hit a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left in regulation after Irvin missed a one-and-one opportunity that could have pushed the lead to four with 15.4 seconds remaining.
"I missed a free throw that could have put us up seven and made some plays down the stretch that I wish I could have taken back," Albrecht said. "You have to give them credit — they battled back and hit some tough shots when they needed to."
This season has been tough for Michigan — not just because of the losing record, but also because so many of the losses have come in overtime.
The Wolverines are 1-4 in overtime games and have lost their last four beyond regulation — versus Wisconsin, at Michigan State, at Illinois. In the last two overtime games, UM was outscored in the early going and never was able to bounce back. On Tuesday against the Wildcats, Michigan had small leads, but wasn't able to put the game away.
"It's obviously frustrating, but it's much different than the Illinois game. We just came out in that OT and pretty much laid down. In both overtimes of this game, we came out and battled and played tough," Albrecht said. "It was unfortunate someone had to lose that game. You have to give them credit — they hit big shots at the end of regulation and both OTs."
It was déjà vu for Beilein, with some positive takeaways but with a similar result.
"I said, 'Here we go again. There's more confidence right now, whether it's the last minutes of the game," Beilein said. "That game was going the other way, quick. When Olah got himself going, it was 45-44 and all of a sudden, we're back in the lead again.
"These kids fought back every time and didn't deserve that, with a loss. At the same time, if you look at Northwestern, they've had a couple losses like this. The game's been virtually theirs and they didn't win."
Derrick Walton Jr. missed his ninth straight game, after going through pregame warm-ups and seeing that his injured foot wasn't ready for full game action.