ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Michigan coach John Beilein said he rarely talks about the NCAA Tournament during the regular season, but Wednesday night's home game with Northwestern was the exception.
Right there in the pre-game notes Beilein shared with his team - beside how they will defend the Wildcats' ball screens and other details - was a note to ''play this game like an NCAA Tournament bid is on the line.''
With that kind of prize potentially at stake, the Wolverines came out flat but eventually rallied for a 72-63 win over Northwestern in front of a quarter-full Crisler Center crowd that braved a winter storm that hit the area.
The second-half spark came from Aubrey Dawkins, who salvaged an otherwise dreadful 3-point shooting night for the Wolverines. A Dawkins 3-pointer put the Wolverines (20-9, 10-6 Big Ten) ahead for good, 57-54, with 4:18 left. The sophomore also hit a pair of 3s over an 80-second stretch midway through the second half to tie it at 44. Michigan took its first lead moments later on a free throw by Kameron Chatman.
It was a needed boost for a Michigan team that entered the game shooting 40 percent from behind the 3-point line and making a Big Ten-best 10.2 per game. The Wolverines were 4 of 14 from behind the arc Wednesday, missing their first nine attempts before a Duncan Robinson shot from the corner at the halftime buzzer pulled Michigan within 29-28.
On Wednesday, Michigan missed its first eight shots and was scoreless for nearly six minutes before a basket by Zak Irvin made it 10-2. The Wildcats would lead by as many as 13 points.
''I think that's as good of a win as we've had all year,'' Beilein said. ''We trailed 17-4 to a very veteran team that was just carving us up out there and we didn't cave.''
Taking away the Wolverines' 3-point shooting was part of Northwestern coach Chris Collins' plan. How the game played out over the final minutes was not.
''I thought the game came down to the last five minutes and, quite frankly, Michigan's guys were tougher than our guys. When the game was there to be won, they made the plays they had to make,'' Collins said.
''We wanted to take away their threes, and we did that other than Aubrey Dawkins getting three in the second half, which were huge.''
With its long-distance shots not falling, Michigan turned to the penetration games of guards Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman, who scored 19 points, and Derrick Walton Jr., who finished with 16 points. Rahkman scored seven points in a key 13-2 first-half run that pulled Michigan to within 19-17.
''The coaches have been emphasizing that I have to get downhill and get to the basket more often,'' said Rahkman.
Collins said he's a ''big fan'' of Rahkman, who has replaced Michigan senior Caris Levert in the starting lineup since Levert was lost to a leg injury.
''I think he's a tough-minded player, he competes, makes a lot of winning plays and was a huge factor in why they won tonight,'' Collins said.
Alex Olah scored 19 points and grabbed five rebounds for Northwestern (17-11, 5-10), matching his best offensive output in the nine games he's played since missing six contests with a foot injury.
The 7-foot senior center eclipsed his season average of 10.6 points with 5:27 left in the first half and followed that with just his seventh 3-point basket of the year two possessions later to finish with 14 first-half points.
Olah dominated Michigan twice last season, averaging 23.5 points in two games, including a 25-point performance that remains his career high.
''If he played against us every game, he'd be a lottery pick,'' John Beilein said.
Tre Demps and Aaron Falzon each scored 14 points for the Wildcats, who led by as many as 13 in the first half.
Michigan: The Wolverines missed their first eight shots and didn't score their first points until a Zak Irvin drive nearly six minutes into the game made it 10-2. They would answer with a 13-2 run moments later - seven from Abdur-Rahkman - to pull within 19-17.
Northwestern: Northwestern was playing for the first time in eight days, the longest break in its schedule since early December. It was also the third time this season a Big Ten opponent had a bye in its league schedule before playing Michigan.
Northwestern hosts Rutgers on Saturday.
Michigan plays at Wisconsin on Sunday.