Ann Arbor — Aubrey Dawkins came off the bench to come up with some huge 3-pointers during the second half to rally Michigan to a 72-63 win over Northwestern on Wednesday night at Crisler Center, keeping the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
The Wolverines (20-9, 10-6) battled back from deficits of 10-0 and 17-4 early to earn the victory in the must-win situation, with games coming up at Wisconsin on Sunday and at home against No. 8 Iowa on March 5 before the Big Ten tournament gets underway.
The outcome assured Michigan its fifth 20-win season in the last six years under head coach John Beilein.
The Wolverines struggled with their 3-point shooting, making just 1-of-11 before Dawkins made consecutive long-range shots to pull them even at 44. They took their first lead of the night when Kameron Chatman made two free throws after grabbing an offensive rebound for a 46-44 cushion with 9:15 left.
The Wolverines had to gut it out and it was again Dawkins who came through in the final minutes, grabbing a rebound, then scoring in transition when he knocked down his third 3-pointer to open a 57-54 lead with 4:25 left. Junior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. followed with a transition layup after Bryant McIntosh missed the front end of a one-and-one, then Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored off a putback for a 61-56 lead with three minutes left.
“They found me and I shot it,” said Dawkins who scored all of his 11 points during the second half after being limited to just five first-half minutes. He also had seven rebounds, six coming in the final 20 minutes. “My teammates see the floor really well and found me open and I just shot it. It’s always nice to get a win, especially after coming off of two losses in a row.”
It looked like a third straight loss was a big possibility in the opening minutes of the game, then the opening minutes of the second half when the Wildcats (17-11, 5-10) went on a 8-0 run to open a 37-28 lead.
Abdur-Rahkman, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, led the Wolverines with 19 points, taking the ball aggressively to the basket and making mid-range jumpers. Walton scored 16, making six straight free throws after Tre Demps’ 3-pointer pulled Northwestern within 62-59 with 2:32 left.
“We wanted to defend the 3-point line and they had four 3s the whole game and they average 10,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “With this team you have to decide what you want to do and for us we wanted to take away their 3s and we did that other than Aubrey Dawkins getting three in the second half, which were huge.
“We wanted them to drive into our big guys and we wanted them to try and finish, and up until the five-minute mark we were winning the game. Quite frankly I just thought Michigan’s guys were just tougher than our guys. I just thought when the game was there to be won they made the plays they had to make, whether it was offensive rebounds and putbacks, whether it was their guys just putting their heads down and driving and getting fouled and getting to the free-throw line.”
The Wolverines did prove to be tougher, outscoring Northwestern by a 20-5 margin from the line, 17-4 during the second half while also holding a 17-10 rebounding margin during the final 20 minutes, 5-2 on the offensive end.
In the end, Collins left impressed with Abdur-Rahkman.
“I thought he was tremendous with his ability to drive the ball, get by our guys, get to the basket, draw fouls," Collins said. "If he did miss we were in rotations so they got offensive rebounds. I thought he played a great game and was a big difference in the game.”
After the Wolverines missed their first eight shots of the game, Zak Irvin finally scored on a driving layup to start the comeback.
Then Abdur-Rahkman took over, scoring nine points during an 11-0 run that pulled the Wolverines within 17-13.
Abdur-Rahkman got the job done in multiple ways, starting with a highlight reverse layup, followed by a paint jumper, then another mid-range jumper, capped with three free throws after he was fouled on a three-pointer.
“You have to step up and try to change the game the best you can,” said Abdur-Rahkman who noted that Beilein was a calming influence early. “He said that we’d be alright, that it’s still early in the game and we were going to get stops and start making shots.”
And, they did.
Walton entered the scene and scored on consecutive driving layups to cut the deficit to 19-17. That's when the Wolverines made 7-of-9 shots after their terrible start.
Michigan never led in a first half in which 7-foot senior center Alex Olah scored 14 for Northwestern (17-11, 5-10), including a 3-pointer, but the Wolverines cut the deficit to a single point at 29-28 when Duncan Robinson connected on a 3-pointer from the left corner as time expired, his first 3-pointer after he misfired on his first three attempts.
Olah scored 19 for Northwestern, which made 8-of-26 3-pointers, just 4-of-13 in each half.