Playing in its first game ranked No. 1 in the country in 21 years, the Michigan men’s basketball team certainly looked the part.
Despite playing without their starting center, redshirt junior Jordan Morgan, the Wolverines (7-1 Big Ten, 20-1 overall) used a high-powered attack to jump out to a 15-point halftime lead and never looked back, defeating Northwestern 68-46.
“That was huge for us,” said freshman forward Glenn Robinson III of the first-half run. “It got a lot of people’s confidence up, and coming out on a run like that is always great for the team.”
After trailing 7-5 in the early minutes of the contest, Michigan used hot shooting and a speedy offensive attack to take control against the Wildcats (3-6, 12-10). Sparked by 14 consecutive points from freshmen, the Wolverines electrified Crisler Center with an 18-4 run, which included two 3-pointers from freshman guard Nik Stauskas and two dunks from Robinson.
By the end of its run, Michigan had connected on 10 of its first 11 shots and sank all three of its shots from behind the arc.
“Northwestern gave us different looks … so it was important to get into the middle and kick it out to the open man,” said sophomore guard Trey Burke.
The Wolverines, who played as close to mistake-free basketball as possible in the first half, held a 36-21 advantage at halftime. Led by Burke’s 10 points and six assists on 4-of-6 shooting, Michigan entered intermission with 10 assists and no turnovers, while committing just one foul.
The freshman trio of Robinson, Stauskas and McGary combined to shoot 9-of-10 from the field in the opening stanza, totaling 23 points. Stauskas had three of the team’s five makes from downtown.
“(In the first half), the assist numbers were really something,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Trey set the tone early. He found Nik, he found (junior guard) Tim (Hardaway Jr.), he found the big men — he did a tremendous job. That’s really how we have to play.”
The Wolverines came out of the locker room a little flat, and Northwestern took advantage, cutting Michigan’s lead to nine points in the opening minutes of the second half. Even after Beilein called a timeout five minutes into the stanza, the Wolverines continued to display a lack of intensity.
But with a 10-point lead with seven minutes gone by in the second period, the Wolverines revved up their energy. Sparked by four straight points from Burke, and hounding team defense, Michigan went on an 18-7 run to stretch its lead to 21 points with six minutes remaining in the game.
“I think that we just needed to step up defensively, and that’s what we did,” Robinson said.
Northwestern never got closer than 19 points the rest of the game. Though Michigan’s shooting wavered late in the contest, the Wolverines kept up their defensive intensity, applying pressure up until the final minutes of the game.
The Wildcats shot just 37 percent from the field, connecting on four of their 19 3-point attempts. They were led on the offensive end by center Alex Olah. The freshman totaled 10 points and three rebounds and was the only player on Northwestern to reach double-digit points.
Burke ended the contest with game highs of 18 points and eight assists, and turned the ball over only once — half of Michigan’s season-low two giveaways.
Replacing the injured Morgan in the starting lineup, redshirt sophomore forward Jon Horford finished with a season-high 10 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. He gave a big boost to the Wolverines, scoring all of his points after halftime. McGary came off the bench to contribute a season-high 11 boards and six points.
“(Horford) really performed well,” Beilein said. “He’s doing a better job of playing big and was huge tonight. He got a couple rebounds tonight that only redshirt freshman forward Jon Horford can get.”