Four minutes and 24 seconds into the first half of last night”s game against Northwestern, Michigan scored its first points. Four minutes and 50 seconds into the second half, the Wolverines notched their first point after halftime. The slow start in each half was one of many reasons Michigan (2-3 Big Ten, 6-8 overall) failed to defeat the Wildcats (1-3, 9-6) at home for the second straight season, losing 58-54.
“Our start really doomed us,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “Getting in a hole against Northwestern with the way that they play is a very tough, uphill battle.”
That style of play is a patient, methodical one, relying on ball control and backdoor passing. It is a style that Northwestern coach Bill Carmody brought with him from Princeton, and has employed with varying success in the Big Ten.
But the backdoor scoring (which accounted for one-third of the Wildcats” field goals) was just one thorn in the Wolverines” side. Poor first-half shooting, timid, even lackadaisical ball movement and foul trouble all contributed to a poor showing that left the team with three straight losses, and a lot of questions.
“If we dwell on this, that could prevent us from winning big games,” senior tri-captain Leon Jones said. “The whole team has to keep their head up and believe that we can bounce back from this.”
Whether the Wolverines can “bounce back” remains to be seen. But Amaker”s squad did show its resiliency in the second half. It ended the first half down 31-19.
“I told our kids at halftime that we can”t be tentative,” Amaker said. “I thought we needed our energy level shifted to a higher gear.”
Michigan was down 35-19 in the midst of the second-half scoring drought. Coming out of the first officials” timeout, freshman guard Dommanic Ingerson missed a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired. Junior forward LaVell Blanchard chased down the rebound, then smartly drew a foul on a baseline runner. Blanchard broke the ice by knocking down his free throws, then led his team on a 9-0 run, scoring seven of those nine points. He ended the game with 11 points and nine rebounds.
Blanchard and the Wolverines kept the score close from there, whittling the difference away to just one point. But down 55-54 with 40 seconds left, Amaker left the game up to his defense. Rather than fouling the Wildcats (who are the worst free-throw shooting team in the Big Ten) and forcing them to hit two shots on the line, Amaker opted to allow the Wolverines” defense to force a miss.
Unfortunately it could not, and with three seconds left on the shot clock Verdran Vukusic found Jason Burke for the Wildcats” seventh successful backdoor pass of the game. Northwestern proceeded to foul guard Avery Queen, who failed to convert the front half of his one-and-one.