When his team finally hit a string of 3-pointers after its recent cold shooting slump, Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein felt thankful — and a little liberated.
“This is like being freed from bondage, are you kidding me?” Beilein said with a laugh after the Wolverines’ 68-59 win over Northwestern on Saturday at Crisler Arena.
After shooting below 26 percent from behind the arc in their previous three losses, the Wolverines needed a bit of comic relief.
Michigan responded and went 22-of-52 from the field, including a 5-of-12 3-point performance in the second half.
And for a team that relies heavily on shots behind the arc, any bit of help was gladly appreciated.
“You can’t go down four straight in the Big Ten and expect to win,” said redshirt freshman guard Laval Lucas-Perry, who made his first 3-pointer in three games. “We played aggressive. We played with poise.”
With the win, Beilein earned his 500th-career victory as a head coach at a four-year school.
And it took a complete effort from his team to do it.
Nine players scored for the Wolverines and six finished with eight or more points.
Junior forward DeShawn Sims scored Michigan’s first nine points in the game’s first three minutes. But Sims cooled off and relied on his teammates to lead Michigan (4-4 Big Ten, 14-6 overall) to its first win in four games. He finished with a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds.
“He played like a beast,” Lucas-Perry said of Sims. “He played with that tenacity that we need out of him every game.”
The Wildcats (2-5, 10-7) entered Crisler Arena fresh off their stunning 70-63 upset of No. 7 Michigan State last Wednesday in East Lansing. But Northwestern couldn’t muster the same lights-out shooting and had just three players account for 83 percent of its offense.
But while the Wildcats relied on their top three scorers, Michigan’s leading offensive presence, sophomore forward Manny Harris, remained on a skid.
With just eight points on Saturday, Harris has scored a combined 12 points in the Wolverines’ last two games.
But even when the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer (17.6 points per game) was double-teamed, Harris was a major contributor in Michigan’s win with a game-high 12 rebounds and four assists.
“The key thing is winning,” Harris said. “I’ve had 20-some and we lost. It will come … I’ll get mine back.”
The Wolverines have played well at home this year, and from tipoff, the players’ intensity was palpable.
Whether it was Sims, Harris or fifth-year senior guard C.J. Lee diving for a rebound, Michigan played with a poised urgency that had been absent in recent games.
The Wolverines outrebounded Northwestern 41-22 and had an impressive 18-to-9 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Freshman guard Zack Novak was crucial to Michigan’s attack on the glass, grabbing three offensive and seven total rebounds. At just 6-foot-5, Novak is often outsized in the post, but his intensity gives him an advantage.
“That was big — he’s just exactly what the doctor ordered, as far as just a guy that is a nuts-and-bolts, blue-collar, lunch-bucket, whatever you guys want to call him,” Beilein said. “He does a lot of the garbage stuff we need to get done.”
The patience the Wolverines exhibited Saturday was a stark contrast to last Tuesday’s loss at Penn State when Michigan shot under 17 percent from 3-point range. It was a big move for Michigan to regain its confidence when Northwestern was brimming with it.
“That was probably the most disappointing thing about the three losses — we thought we left something on the court,” Lee said. “Tonight, we wanted to empty out everyone’s tank and go hard the entire time.”