Michigan's Stifling Defense, Eventual Surge On Offense Nets Blowout Win Over Northwestern
Michigan was expected to beat Northwestern in Evanston but not by a lot. The Wolverines were a 5.5-point favorite heading into the contest against a struggling Wildcat team but haven’t exactly been dominant this year, especially on the road. Out of the gate, Michigan started 0-for-11 from the floor and looked like they might be in a dog fight against the worst team in the conference.
“I told them during a timeout that the shots that did not fall were open shots,” Michigan head coach Juwan Howard said after the game. “They will fall, but it was important that we went back on the other end and played defense. Continue to keep playing hard defensively and don’t have that, ‘Aw, man,’ feeling sorry for yourselves. It’s a 40-minute game. Stay locked in on the process.”
Early in the game, senior center Jon Teske struggled more than anyone going 0-for-5 from the floor with his longest shot being only about six feet. To compound things, Howard was then forced to sit senior point guard Zavier Simpson just seven minutes into the first half because of foul trouble Luckily, Howard trusts every backup and role player on his team and they allowed the Wolverines to go on a 32-10 run to close the first half while Simpson and, for the most part Teske, watched from the bench.
“It’s been a total team effort,” Howard said. “When one guy does not have it going, the next man steps up. Austin [Davis] was the guy who stepped up when Jon was struggling to score. The game is not always affected just by putting the ball in the basket.”
Howard also touched on the team’s defense while Simpson and Teske were watching from the sideline.
“Defensively I thought our guys did a really good job of being active and being locked into the game plan,” he said. “Knowing personnel, knowing who shooters were, respecting this team despite the record. Like I explained to our guys before, don’t get caught up with the 1-11. Northwestern has shown that they can win ball games. They had been in a lot of ball games against some really good teams in the Big Ten. It was important for us to stay locked in the moment and continue to do what we do.”
The Wolverines definitely seemed locked in. The Maize and Blue held Northwestern to just 54 points and forced the Cats to shoot just 5-for-21 from three-point range. Howard explained the team’s plan coming in and, based on the 25-point margin of victory, the players seemed to execute it very well.
“We knew that they shoot the ball very well from the outside,” Howard stated. “[Miller] Kopp is the leader of that. We focused on not giving any open looks to him. We wanted to be ready to contest the shot without fouling. We also wanted to make sure that we didn’t get caught hugging our man. We wanted to provide team defense and make them play in a crowd.”
The Wolverines are now 15-9 overall and 6-7 in the Big Ten. Even though those marks aren’t incredibly impressive, U-M is slowly stacking up Quad 1 wins and now has six with a chance to add four or five more, depending on how Wisconsin finishes out the week. With seven regular season games left, the Big Ten tournament and obviously an expected berth to the NCAA tournament, Michigan seems to be trending in a very positive direction.
What stood out to you during Michigan's win over Northwestern? How do you think the Wolverines will do down the stretch? Comment below!!!