Wolverines 'dig deep' to edge Wildcats, extend win streak
Ann Arbor — Coming off two straight convincing wins, Michigan was looking to build more momentum heading into this weekend’s rivalry showdown.
It wasn’t pretty or easy, but the Wolverines found a way to get the job done in crunch time.
After squandering an 11-point lead in the second half, Michigan hit some big shots late, caught enough breaks and pulled out a 72-70 win over Northwestern on Wednesday at Crisler Center in a foul-riddled contest that went down to the wire.
“Very proud of how our team banded together and fought hard,” coach Juwan Howard said. “We figured out a way to how to dig deep and get a victory. Each possession mattered to this group.”
Freshman forward Caleb Houstan scored 18 and made the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:38 remaining, while grad transfer guard DeVante’ Jones added 15 points and made four critical free throws in the final minute for Michigan (10-7, 4-3 Big Ten), which closed the game on a 17-8 run.
The Wolverines and Wildcats combined for 46 fouls and three players fouled out in the closing minutes, including Michigan big men Hunter Dickinson and Moussa Diabate. The teams shot 52 total free throws and missed 18 of them, with six misses coming in the final 17 seconds.
Northwestern was responsible for four of those during the tense finish. With Michigan leading 72-68 and both teams in the double bonus, Northwestern’s Ryan Young was fouled by senior walk-on forward Jaron Faulds. Young made the first free throw and missed the second, but the Wildcats grabbed the offensive rebound and called their final timeout with 12.4 seconds left.
With a chance for Northwestern to potentially tie it and force overtime, Howard didn't let things play out. The Wolverines fouled Pete Nance with 9.3 seconds left and sent him to the line, where he missed both attempts.
“I did not want to give them an opportunity to come down and run one of their sets where they can possibly get a quick 3,” Howard explained. “I do trust our defense will get stops when needed, but since we're up three, send them to the free-throw line and see if they make the free throws. It was successful for us.”
But after Faulds was fouled on the rebound, he couldn’t shut the door and clanked two free throws with 8.5 ticks remaining. Northwestern secured the rebound and Michigan elected to foul Boo Buie near midcourt before he could attempt a 3-pointer.
Buie made the first free throw to make it a two-point game and missed the second, but Nance grabbed the offensive rebound and got it to Julian Roper II. With one last chance to tie it or win it, Roper put up a desperation 3-pointer that didn't hit the rim at the buzzer.
Nance finished with 14 points to lead Northwestern (9-9, 2-7), which shot 61.5% from the free-throw line (16-for-26) and has lost seven of its last eight. Buie and Young each scored 13.
The Wolverines led 48-37 early in the second half when fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks (12 points) provided a much-needed spark. After knocking down a 3-pointer, he came away with a steal near midcourt, scored a fast-break layup while being fouled and converted the three-point play.
Then after Houstan drained a 3-pointer, Brooks capped a 12-2 spurt by swishing a deep ball from the top of the key and forcing a Northwestern timeout with 17:10 remaining.
But the momentum didn’t last long as turnovers and a stagnant offense allowed Northwestern to counter with a 25-7 run. Following an offensive foul on Jones, the Wildcats splashed a 3-pointer. Then after coming away with a steal, the Wildcats scored on a driving layup as they eventually pulled even at 51 with 10:06 to play.
Michigan briefly regained the lead on a basket from Dickinson, but the unforced errors piled up. A foul by Dickinson put Northwestern in the bonus and led to two free throws. After Michigan missed the front end of a one-and-one and had a shot clock violation, the Wildcats pulled ahead 62-55 with 5:09 remaining.
“We weren't making the shots that we were making in the first half and I think we missed a couple layups, a couple shots going in and out,” Jones said. “We also we went on a stretch where we missed a lot of defensive assignments. I know that's been our problem the whole season — second half we always struggle a little bit. But I love how we fought through the last five minutes to get the ‘W.’”
The Wolverines started their late charge by stringing together stops and piecing together seven straight points. Jones buried a 3-pointer and Dickinson found Diabate for a dunk to even it at 62 with 3:24 to go.
After Northwestern went back on top with two free throws and Dickinson fouled out at the 2:29 mark, Michigan kept pushing. Sophomore forward Terrance Williams II drained a 3-pointer to put the Wolverines up by one. Then after Nance split two free throws to tie it back up, Houstan buried another deep ball to put Michigan back ahead for good.
Jones followed with four free throws sandwiched around a 3-pointer from Buie, giving the Wolverines a 72-68 lead with 27 seconds left and setting the stage for the frantic finish.
“It definitely was fun getting to go through some adversity without our best player (Dickinson) and see where we're at as a team,” Jones said. “We're very hungry, very disciplined. We understand it's always next man up no matter who's out. I learned a lot from this team and we've got a big game coming up this weekend (at No. 10 Michigan State).”