EVANSTON It appeared for one half on Saturday night that Northwestern had concocted a sure-fire scheme to turn the Wolverines” height advantage against them. Northwestern started explosively from 3-point land, utilizing quickness and roadblock screens to hit seven treys in the first 10 minutes.
But the Wildcats went cold in the second period while Michigan began to exploit its interior advantage.
Michigan rebounded from a nine-point deficit at the half to Northwestern (0-8 Big Ten, 7-13 overall), the conference bottom-dweller, grinding out a 72-65 road victory.
“This is a very tough loss,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said. “I thought we played well enough to win.
“Michigan got some easy looks, and it didn”t take too long before they got back in the game. (Michigan) showed us some fortitude.”
The Wolverines (3-4, 9-9) are back in the middle of the conference pack with tomorrow”s contest with Michigan State at Crisler looming.
“I thought we came out and played a lot harder (in the second half),” Michigan junior Chris Young said. “Every win is a good win, we”ll enjoy this for five-and-a-half hours and then turn our attention to Michigan State.”
Northwestern got its early kickstart from sophomore Winston Blake, who nailed five 3-pointers in the first half. The Wildcats led by as many as 12 in the half, shooting 9-of-18 from behind the arc.
Blake finished with a game-high 23 points.
Carmody”s “team obviously came out and executed exactly what he wanted,” Michigan coach Brian Ellerbe said. “You don”t expect guys to shoot that well that quickly, but I know that”s a big part of their arsenal.”
Surprisingly in the second half, Michigan switched predominantly to a 2-3 zone a defense that usually has holes on the wings and had much better success defending the Wildcats” outside threats. Northwestern made just 2-of-13 second-half 3-pointers.
“The zone has been pretty good for us the last three games,” Ellerbe said. “I think sometimes it may have surprised them.”
“We knew they couldn”t shoot that well the whole game,” Michigan junior Leon Jones added.
While Northwestern went frigid, Michigan started utilizing its size advantage to post-up and get to the foul line. Shutout from free-throw attempts in the first half, Michigan made trips to the charity stripe 20 times in period two. And unlike some tight games earlier in the season, the Wolverines thrived, making 18 foul shots.
Northwestern finished the game 6-of-10 on free throws.
“It just so happened that we got the calls in those particular situations,” Ellerbe, who said he had contacted the Big Ten office about overofficiating earlier in the week, said.
Michigan sophomore LaVell Blanchard scored 21 points, leading Michigan for the third straight game. Blanchard”s 6-for-11 shooting also marks the third consecutive time he has shot over 50 percent from the floor.