EVANSTON — Michigan lived by the 3-pointer on Tuesday night, taking an early six-point lead to establish strong position on the road. Michigan also died by the 3-pointer, faltering when Northwestern switched to a 1-3-1 zone in the first half and used several other looks in the second half.
In the end, the Wolverines won by the 3-pointer.
After missing a desperation look from deep in the final possession of regulation — failing to see wide-open teammate Zack Novak in the process — freshman point guard Trey Burke nailed his first 3-point attempt in the ensuing overtime period.
Novak and fellow senior guard Stu Douglass followed with consecutive 3-pointers of their own, giving Michigan a nine-point lead midway through overtime. From there, the Wolverines cruised to a 67-55 victory over the Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan Arena, winning their second overtime contest against Northwestern this season.
Douglass admitted that Burke’s opening 3-pointer was a sign of relief.
“You always want to strike first (in overtime), especially against a team like that, (playing) at home, (and us) beating them once already in overtime,” Douglass said. “They don’t need any more motivation. … You want to get that first bucket.”
Coming into the game, the Wolverines knew they’d have plenty of looks from long range because of Northwestern’s sub-par defense. But they probably wouldn’t have guessed they’d end up shooting 38 times from beyond the arc.
From the game’s opening minutes, Michigan (11-4 Big Ten, 21-7 overall) launched repeatedly from deep. Against the Wildcats’ man-to-man defense, which Northwestern initially deployed, the Wolverines found success. Michigan made five of its first eight attempts from long range. Sophomore guard Matt Vogrich’s 3-pointer with 9:19 left in the first half gave his team a 19-13 lead.
But early success gave way to a long stretch of frustration. The Wolverines looked lost at first when Northwestern (6-9 Big Ten, 16-11 overall) moved into its 1-3-1 defensive scheme, despite the fact that Michigan coach John Beilein uses that zone.
The Wildcats, led by star forward John Shurna, took advantage of Michigan’s sudden inability to hit a shot, finishing the half on an 18-5 run to take control of the game. Shurna scored 10 of his 14 points before halftime. The Wolverines started falling behind on defense in the face of Northwestern’s Princeton attack, losing backside cutters and switching into unfavorable matchups.
“We know they run probably the most difficult offense in the Big Ten,” Burke said. “We knew that they were going to switch a lot on ball screens and handoffs. I got switched onto Shurna a couple times, and I just tried to deny him as much as possible.
“He was killing us at first, but at the end, we did a good job of locking down on him and making him miss.”
After the break, Burke found himself hounded even more. The Wildcats stayed with their 1-3-1 defense and also used a 2-1-2 at times, constantly collapsing multiple defenders on the freshman guard, especially when he tried to penetrate.
But the open shots were still there on the perimeter, and Beilein told his players repeatedly to just keep shooting. The team began to attack the zone efficiently, moving the ball more quickly, getting the ball inside, even if for a brief moment, and penetrating enough to draw defenders away from the 3-point line.
It was Burke himself who stood up at halftime to encourage his teammates. He lamented how the Wolverines always say the same things at halftime — it was time for them to just go out and play.
Burke led them in that effort, and the shots began to fall again, especially in the biggest moments. Vogrich’s 3-pointer with 8:45 left in the game gave Michigan the lead for the first time since the first half, and sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr.’s 3-pointer tied the game at 49 with 1:41 left.
“We’re usually the ones throwing (the 1-3-1) at other people,” said Burke, who finished with a game-high 19 points. “We worked on it here and there in practice this week, but it’s just a different look for us. It took us that whole (first) half, and (by) that second half, we were adjusted.
“We still had the mindset (of) make them pay for it, for playing the 1-3-1.”
The Wolverines had plenty of opportunities to lose their focus, especially with both redshirt sophomore Jordan Morgan and sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz having to sit in the first half with after getting into foul trouble.
But they buckled down on defense in the second half and overtime. On offense, led by Burke — who played the entire game — and a never-stop-shooting attitude, Michigan kept its bearing, turning the ball over just seven times.
“(Against the 1-3-1), what you have to have is not schematic,” Beilein said. “It’s a bunch of guys who see the floor, who can all pass, and are going to be selfless in their game. … We shot 38 (3-pointers), didn’t we? That’s a lot. We’ll have to get some ice on those arms.”