EVANSTON — Just 15 seconds into the game, redshirt sophomore center Jordan Morgan picked up a foul.
A few minutes later, senior guard Zack Novak, and Morgan’s replacement, sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz, picked up consecutive fouls. The next play, Smotrycz fouled again. After Morgan re-replaced Smotrycz, Morgan fouled again.
Six minutes of the game had elapsed, and both big men had two fouls, reaching the number that usually causes Michigan coach John Beilein to sit the player for the rest of the half.
“If you look at the old Princeton teams … it was more of a passing offense,” Beilein said, describing Northwestern’s evolving offense. “They really drove it at us and drove it at us and the officials started calling it very tight. It was the right calls. Foul trouble hurt us in the first half.”
Amid the carnage, Beilein needed production from his bench if the Wolverines wanted to stay in the game.
Beilein has sparsely used his bench in conference play this season. In past games when Morgan has fouled early, Beilein has depended on Smotrycz to replace him. But this time around, with Smotrycz also in foul trouble, Beilein was handcuffed. Novak also had to sit for seven minutes in the first half.
“Those things are going to happen,” Beilein said. “It’s sudden change, and you just need to adjust to it.”
Enter junior guard Matt Vogrich, who was playing just a half-hour away from his hometown.
“It was awesome,” said the Lake Forest, Ill. native. “My AAU coach was here, my family, my friends.”
With the starting frontcourt forced to the bench, Vogrich sparked the Wolverines with valuable minutes off the bench. His nine points on three 3-pointers gave Michigan the spurts it needed in the decisive overtime victory.
“That was big for him to come off the bench,” Beilein said. “He’s been a big part of this little surge that we’re having right now. All year long, we’ve struggled at times with our bench play. We needed that. He’s done a good job.”
After missing his first two shots, Vogrich buried two straight 3-pointers to extend the Michigan lead to six.
With Morgan and Smotrycz limited to playing just six minutes combined in the first half, Michigan had to go with a smaller lineup. Vogrich and junior forward Blake McLimans were forced to see their longest stretches of playing time in Big Ten competition.
Despite Vogrich’s efforts, the foul trouble came back to haunt the Wolverines. The 19-13 lead that Vogrich had given Michigan quickly deteriorated, as the Wildcats went on an 18-5 run and took a 31-24 lead into halftime.
In a low-scoring second half, the Wolverines inched their way back. But another Novak foul — his third — thrust Vogrich back into the game.
The hometown kid came up big again, banging home another 3-pointer from the corner to erase Michigan’s halftime deficit and give Michigan a 39-38 advantage. It was the Wolverines’ first lead since it was 19-17.
“He’s really rolling right now,” Novak said. “Really just shooting the crap out of the ball. That’s huge for us.”
Neither team would lead by more than four until the Wolverines broke it open in overtime to win 67-55.
Vogrich has found a hot streak recently, making three of four 3-point attempts at Nebraska two weeks ago and making both of his tries behind the arc at home against Illinois two weekends ago. However, in both of those contests, Michigan was already leading comfortably when Vogrich got hot. This time, it was different.
In this game, in front of his friends and family, he made the shots when they counted.
“These are games where there’s a little something extra there,” Novak said. “Whether it’s the school that passed you up or a school you have a bunch of friends that go to. It’s special.”