'Keep reeling them in': Michigan sets school mark with 17-0 start after win over Northwestern
Ann Arbor — The accomplishments continue to pile up for Michigan.
After recording a single-season program-record 33 victories and winning back-to-back Big Ten tournament titles for the first time last season, the Wolverines made history once again on Sunday night.
This time, No. 2 Michigan pounded Northwestern, 80-60, at Crisler Center to sweep the regular-season series and set the program record for best start at 17-0.
The Wolverines (6-0 Big Ten) surpassed the previous mark of 16-0 set by the 1985-86 and 2012-13 teams to take sole possession of the feat and move into a class of their own.
"It definitely means a lot. Honestly, I'm astonished," said junior guard Zavier Simpson, who set career highs with 24 points and five made 3-pointers. "I'm not really sure what to say, but hopefully we can it keep going."
All that stood between Michigan and the record was a Northwestern team that pushed it to the limit and misfired on a 3-pointer at the buzzer that allowed the Wolverines to escape with a win on Dec. 4.
In the rematch, though, junior center Jon Teske and Simpson made sure the Wolverines had no trouble with the Wildcats. Teske tied a career high with 17 points — all coming in the first half — and teamed up with Simpson to make eight 3-pointers for Michigan, which scored a season-best 50 points in the first half and shot 52.5 percent (31-for-59) from the field.
The duo had everything clicking on both ends and helped Michigan roar out to a 10-0 lead, with Teske burying two mid-range jumpers and Simpson hitting a running hook shot to force a Northwestern timeout less than three minutes into the game.
Northwestern (10-7, 1-5) eventually settled in and began digging out of the hole. The Wildcats cut the deficit to two while using the same defensive strategy against Simpson by daring him to shoot from deep, which worked on his first two attempts.
But Simpson responded by burying his next two deep balls, with the second make coming during a 21-6 flurry over the final 5 minutes, 30 minutes of the half that gave Michigan a 22-point lead at the break.
And it was Simpson and Teske who starred during the blitz. Following his second made 3-pointer, Simpson threw a perfectly placed outlet pass to freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis (11 points) that led to a foul and free throw.
Teske then stole the show by scoring 11 straight points for Michigan, highlighted by three made 3-pointers. His last two came in back-to-back fashion from atop the key within a 29-second span to spark a 10-0 spurt to close the half.
"They (Northwestern) chose to do what they did last time — play off some people and we were able to execute," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Nobody on our team could make a 3 yesterday in practice...As as result, they were worried. I guess I wasn't worried.
"Really happy Zavier and Jon can have that type of a breakout game as far as from the perimeter. With Jon, we've been encouraging that action. Jon has been taking extra shots. Zavier has always taken extra shots."
Redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews (13 points) followed with a fast-break dunk off a steal to send the sellout crowd into a frenzy as Michigan made 12 of its final 14 shots of the half to roll into the break with a 50-28 cushion.
That proved to be an insurmountable hole for Northwestern since the Wildcats were without leading scorer Vic Law (lower body), who tallied 19 points and seven rebounds in the first meeting between the teams.
"They're a really good team all-around, but give Zavier and Teske a lot of credit. I thought their shooting in the game really broke things open," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "I thought our live-ball turnovers were a factor, especially in the first half, and they're going to feast on that when you throw the ball away.
"But when you play these guys, when you play them you've got to figure out what are some things you're going to live with because they space you so well and they're really good at every position. We were going to live with some Simpson 3s and some Teske 3s. Give those guys credit, they went 8-for-15 from the 3-point line."
Dererk Pardon, who gave Michigan fits last month, did what he could for Northwestern and finished with 20 points on 10-for-16 shooting despite being doubled in the post at times.
After Michigan pushed its lead to 24, Pardon converted two layups and a dunk during a 15-4 run where the Wolverines’ offense dried up and could only muster nine points over the 10 minutes of the second half.
Even with the rough stretch, the Wolverines still comfortably led by double digits as the closest the Wildcats could claw within was 61-48 with 9:30 remaining.
Simpson wrapped things up with a flourish, draining a mid-range jumper and his final two 3-pointers during a 10-2 spurt that made it 78-54 with 4:01 to play and kept Michigan's perfect start intact heading into next weekend's matchup at Wisconsin.
"It's extremely humbling knowing the ones that came before us, the amount of talents and success that this program has had," Matthews said of the record start. "I'm very fortunate to be a part of this group.
"We're just trying to keep reeling them in. We're trying to get 18-0 now, so it's on to the next one."