EVANSTON — Michigan has given up numerous second-half
leads this season. And for a brief moment Saturday against
Northwestern, it looked like it was going to happen again.

Mira Levitan
Graham Brown had seven points and four rebounds in the win at Northwestern. (FOREST CASEY/Daily)

With less than two minutes remaining and the Wolverines up by
two, senior forward Bernard Robinson was pressured by two Wildcats
in the Michigan backcourt with no Wolverine close by to pass the
ball to. Robinson lobbed the ball out of bounds, giving
Northwestern a chance to take its first lead of the half.

Then, after Wildcat forward Vedran Vukusic missed a 3-pointer,
Michigan made the big play it has been lacking in many of its road
losses. On the next possession, sophomore guard Daniel Horton drove
inside before dishing the ball off to guard Lester Abram, who
missed a bank shot off the glass. But freshman center Courtney Sims
was in perfect position to tip the rebound in. Sims’s putback
gave Michigan a four-point lead, and Abram and Robinson hit free
throws down the stretch to preserve Michigan’s 63-56
victory.

The win gives Michigan (17-10 overall, 8-8 Big Ten) a fifth seed
and first-round bye at next week’s Big Ten Tournament in
Indianapolis. Saturday’s win over the Wildcats was the
Wolverines’ best road win of the season, an unthinkable fact
back in early January in many respects.

Although it prevailed 78-54 in the first meeting between these
two teams, Michigan was an underdog going into Welsh-Ryan Arena, as
Northwestern (13-14, 8-8) was playing one of its biggest games in
the past decade. The Wildcats were playing to assure themselves a
National Invitational Tournament bid and sending off its star
senior Jitim Young. The school boasts just three postseason bids
— all NIT — in the program’s history.
Northwestern has been uncharacteristically tough at home this year,
and Michigan joined Michigan State as the only Big Ten teams to win
at Welsh-Ryan Arena this season.

“We didn’t survive,” Robinson said. “We
won the game. Northwestern’s a good team. So for us to come
in here to play well against a team like that, I think we give
credit to our team for hanging in there and getting that
victory.”

Northwestern jumped out of the gates pressing, and held the lead
for the game’s first ten minutes. The Wildcat pressing, and
held the lead for the game’s first ten minutes. The Wildcats
matchup zone shut down Michigan’s interior game despite the
Wolverines’ massive size advantage. Michigan’s top four
post players — Sims, Graham Brown, Brent Petway and Chris
Hunter — finished with a combined 15 points because the
Wolverines could not get the ball inside. Northwestern’s
defense also forced 21 turnovers by constantly trapping the
Wolverine guards.

“We just have to play through (the turnovers),”
Horton said. “That’s the way (the Wildcats) play the
game. They make the game ugly. They make it hard.”

But Michigan got back into the game because of great shooting
efforts from Horton and Dion Harris. Without a post game to
complement, the duo combined for 22 first-half points. Horton shot
6-for-8 from the field in one of his best halves of the season.

“Our perimeter players did a heck of a job when we needed
it,” Amaker said.

Northwestern then ran out of gas in the second half and never
held a lead, as it went 1-for-12 from behind the arc in the final
20 minutes. Robinson hit a clutch 3-pointer as the shot clock
expired to give Michigan a seven-point lead with four minutes to
play.

The win ends Michigan’s regular season, and the Wolverines
will likely have to advance to the finals of the Big Ten Tournament
to receive any consideration for the NCAA Tournament.

“I think our team is still growing,” Amaker said.
“As a coach you don’t find that too often this time of
year. But we’re very excited to know that we still have a lot
of growth potential this season.”

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