Evanston, Ill. — Michigan coach Juwan Howard noticed all the maize and blue in the stands during the national anthem. He saw his friends, family and former NBA teammate Dikembe Mutombo behind the bench.
More importantly, Howard witnessed his team pick up a road victory in what turned out to be a happy homecoming in his first trip back to the Chicago area.
Michigan shook off a slow start with an overwhelming first-half run and never looked back as it ran over Northwestern, 79-54, Wednesday night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
“That was beautiful. It was great to have that support,” said Howard, a Chicago native. “There's something about Chicago air. I love Chicago. This is where I grew up. Once I got off the plane, I smelled and was like, 'Ahh, ahh I'm home.'”
Junior guard Eli Brooks had 18 points and junior forward Isaiah Livers had 17 points for Michigan (15-9, 6-7 Big Ten), which shot 46.9 percent (30-for-64) after starting 0-for-11 from the field.
The Wolverines have won four of five, including their last three games away from Crisler Center. This one, though, was a lopsided affair as Michigan took control in the first half and withstood a minor push in the second half.
After taking a double-digit lead into the break, the Wolverines wasted little time blowing things open. Senior center Jon Teske capped a 10-0 run with a driving layup for a commanding 48-25 advantage with 16:01 to play.
Northwestern did its best to claw back. The Wildcats pieced together an 8-0 spurt to cut the deficit to 58-46 with 7:00 remaining and started to gain some semblance of momentum.
It didn't last long. Brooks delivered a run-stuffing 3-pointer. Teske came up with an emphatic blocked shot. Livers threw down a thunderous fast-break dunk. And just like that, Michigan's lead was up to 65-48 with 5:10 to go.
"That was huge,” Howard said of Brooks’ 3-pointer. “Northwestern made a run back in the game because we didn't handle it the right way. I was very disappointed in our group. I thought some of the passes that we made were uncharacteristic. I thought at certain moments of the game where they were making a run we were too causal.
“Eli made that 3 when we were struggling to score but more importantly struggling to make a play. The 3 was huge. It gave us that momentum that we needed."
Northwestern trailed by at least 16 points the rest of the way as senior guard Zavier Simpson and Teske recorded their 104th career win, which tied the program’s all-time record with Glen Rice (1986-89), J.P. Oosterbann (1986-89), Mark Hughes (1986-89) and Jordan Morgan (2011-14).
Jared Jones scored 12 and Miller Kopp 10 for Northwestern (6-17, 1-12), which has lost eight straight and 13 of its last 14 games. The Wildcats shot 32.2 percent (19-for-59) from the field and trailed by double figures over the final 25 minutes of the game.
"We just didn't have it," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "We had a hard time getting anything going. We didn't really defend at a great clip. I just thought the other team was a step faster tonight.
"I thought we had strung together some good games and to not play as well tonight was disappointing."
Michigan missed its first 11 shots, with most of those attempts coming on layups and dunks at the basket, before Brooks drained a 3-pointer over five minutes into the game.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, they were playing the bottom feeder of the Big Ten and were able to turn things around quickly once they found their rhythm.
After trailing by seven, Michigan flipped the switch and ripped off a 27-5 run to take control, with most of that damage being done with Simpson on the bench with two fouls.
The flurry started with a string of 10 straight points and Michigan grabbed its first lead, 16-13, at the 11:00 mark following back-to-back 3-pointers by Brooks and freshman wing Franz Wagner.
Michigan’s bench, particularly sophomore guard David DeJulius and redshirt junior center Austin Davis, provided a jolt as the Wolverines pulled away. Davis continued his efficient play with seven points during the run, DeJulius knocked down a 3-pointer and Teske threw down a wide-open dunk to make it 33-18 at the 2:42 mark.
Over the final 13 minutes of the half, Michigan held Northwestern to just four made baskets as it rolled into halftime with a 38-23 lead and on its way to a rare blowout win.
"I hate to say it — it's always that Michigan tradition of Michigan being that second-half-of-a-season team where they go on a run,” Livers said. “I hate it, but I have to love it because it's definitely going to help us make our run for the Big Ten tournament and try to punch that ticket to March Madness."