EVANSTON – For the second straight game, halftime turned out to be the most important 15 minutes of the entire day for the Michigan basketball team.
After holding Ohio State to a mere 18 points in the second half of last Wednesday’s 61-50 come-from-behind victory, the Wolverines had inexplicably allowed Northwestern – the Big Ten’s lowest scoring team – to put 40 points on the board thanks to 58-percent shooting from the floor in the first half on Saturday.
Facing a 40-32 deficit at the break, the Wolverines decided things needed to change.
“We weren’t playing Michigan basketball,” guard Lester Abram said. “That’s playing with toughness and smartness – we had to make a lot of adjustments in the second half.”
Junior Bernard Robinson echoed the sentiments.
“We regrouped at halftime and had to get back to playing the way we’ve been playing,” Robinson said. “We recognized a few things they were doing and tried to get adjustments.”
Those adjustments allowed Michigan (4-0 Big Ten, 11-6 overall) to put a comeback together in the second half. After Northwestern guard Jitim Young threw down an alley-oop to give the Wildcats their largest lead at 42-32 just seconds into the second half, Michigan – which now finds itself in first place in the Big Ten all by itself – took control.
The Wolverines, led by two 3-pointers from Abram, quickly erased the Northwestern lead, posting a 12-3 run over the next four minutes to knot the game at 45.
From there, it was just a matter of time until the Wolverines got a handle on the game, pulling away from the Wildcats for a 77-70 victory, Michigan’s 11th straight conquest.
“It was an intense basketball game,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “I didn’t think we played a particularly good 20 minutes or smart 20 minutes in the first half, but they had a lot to do with that.
“I thought we really took the bull by the horns in the second half and played a smarter game and came with a lot more passion.”
Michigan stayed hot after Abram knotted the game with 15:43 left. Senior LaVell Blanchard’s two free throws gave Michigan the lead at 47-46, the first lead that the Wolverines had possessed since a 28-27 advantage in the first half.
Freshman Daniel Horton then, once again, found the touch that has made him one of the most talked-about players in the Big Ten this year.
Horton, who finished the game with 22 points and five assists, forced a turnover and nailed a 3-pointer to up the Michigan lead to 57-50. He then was instrumental in the Wolverines’ efforts to ice the game.
The point guard hit another triple from the corner after the Wildcats had cut the lead to two with under eight minutes left. Just moments later, Horton used an ankle-breaking crossover to free himself up for yet another 3-pointer, his fifth of the half and sixth of the game. He then completed his heroics with a stutter-step drive that led to a layup, foul and an insurmountable eight-point Michigan lead with under four minutes left.
“Horton is a good player,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “He hit some three’s at the top when guys were with him, and he’s hard to identify (on defense) all the time.”
The Wolverines received a terrific all-around performance from center Chris Hunter.
Hunter came off the bench for 10 points, five rebounds and several hustle plays to help set the tone in the second half.
Blanchard also played another stellar game, scoring 19 points and grabbing a game-high nine rebounds.
“We came with a lot more passion (in the second half), and I thought LaVell Blanchard really led the way for us,” Amaker said.
The 11-game winning streak is the nation’s second longest, and the longest streak by a Michigan team since the 1992-93 team won 11 in a row. But technically, this is Michigan’s longest streak since 1988, due to the forfeiture of the 1992-93 campaign.
The Wolverines will try to keep their run of success going tomorrow night at 8 p.m. when they host Minnesota at Crisler Arena.