If there’s one easy prediction to be made about the Michigan men’s basketball team’s matchup with Northwestern on Wednesday, it’s that there’s no way it can top what happened in the two teams’ last meeting.
When the Wolverines traveled to Evanston on March 3, 2015, their season was essentially lost. Their two best players, then-junior guard Caris LeVert and then-sophomore guard Derrick Walton Jr., were done for the year with injuries, and Michigan had just come off a brutal 1-6 record in the month of February.
Facing the Wildcats — who were then 5-11 in the Big Ten and had already lost to the Wolverines earlier in the season — seemed like a chance for Michigan to snap out of its funk and start a late-season push for the National Invitation Tournament. But what happened instead was a double-overtime thriller from which Northwestern escaped with an 82-78 victory, and the Wolverines missed out on postseason play all together.
This year, the situation isn’t nearly as dire. Michigan sits at 9-6 in the Big Ten and 19-9 overall, though LeVert is sidelined with an injury once again. But as the Wolverines slide closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble, they once again find themselves in a must-win scenario against the struggling Wildcats (5-9 Big Ten, 17-10 overall) at Crisler Center on Wednesday.
To secure a win, Michigan will have to hold in check the hero of last year’s game: senior guard Tre Demps, who joined Ohio State’s Evan Turner and Wisconsin’s Ben Brust on the list of Michigan basketball heartbreakers when he pulled off one of the most improbable feats in recent memory: sinking not one, not two, but three late clutch 3-pointers. The first came with four seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime, and then Demps struck twice in the last 10 seconds of the first overtime to erase a six-point Michigan lead and force double overtime.
The Daily caught up with Demps at Big Ten Media Day in October to discuss that wild game, one of the biggest performances of his career to date.
The Michigan Daily: Where did that game against Michigan last year rank as far as the craziest games you’ve been a part of?
Tre Demps: It definitely was the craziest. I think what a lot of people don’t realize is I was really struggling in that game prior to what happened at the end, and (senior center) Alex Olah was carrying us throughout the game. I just have to give all the credit to my teammates and the coaches, who trusted me at the end of the game to take those shots.
TMD: After a game like that, do you start to feel more comfortable with the ball in your hands in late-game situations?
TD: Yeah, you know, it’s actually something I used to practice with my dad all the time, taking that big shot. We’d play 1-on-1 and pretend there was a certain amount of time on the clock. We practiced that from the time I was in elementary school. I think it gave me the confidence to do it at this stage.
TMD: I heard you talking earlier about how your team puts a lot of emphasis on practicing late-game situations. With so many close Big Ten games last year and probably coming up this year, do you think that Michigan game is a good indicator of how well your team can perform in those?
TD: Absolutely. A lot of credit goes to one of our assistants, Coach (Brian) James, because he draws up all our late-game plays. He has all the specials, he has a lot of plays you didn’t even know even existed, to get you open opportunities. It’s fun to run those in practice, and hopefully we’ll get to use them a lot during the season.
TMD: Did you run some of those plays to hit those shots against Michigan, or do you just take any shot you can get there?
TD: You know what, there was one — I had one in the left corner where (then-senior guard) JerShon Cobb threw a baseline pass and I came off a double flare, and that’s something that we practice. I know (Coach James) has a lot more tricks up his sleeve.