Michigan lands huge shots late to evade Northwestern to earn third straight win

ANN ARBOR — With its starting frontcourt on the bench after a foul, Michigan turned to 3-point shooting to stage a late comeback and thwart Northwestern’s upset offer Wednesday night.

Trailing by seven with five minutes left, Michigan closed the game strong to escape with a 72-70 victory.

The Wolverines (10-7, 4-3) enter Saturday’s showdown at Michigan State on their first three-game winning streak of the season.

Freshman Caleb Houstan stayed hot, finishing with a game-high 18 points, DeVante’ Jones had 15 points and six assists, and Eli Brooks added 12 points.

After two comfortable wins, Michigan found themselves in a 40-minute battle with the brave Wildcats. Troubles and turnovers didn’t help.

A total of 46 fouls were called. Michigan’s best player, Hunter Dickinson, fouled with 2:29 left after playing 29 minutes. Another starter, Moussa Diabaté, followed soon after. It was limited to 21 minutes. Northwestern also had its fair share of foul issues, with one starting foul.

Michigan used a 7-0 run, including a Jones 3, to tie the game with 3:24 left. Terrance Williams II’s 3-pointer gave Michigan a one-point lead with 2:08 to go, and Houstan’s 3 on the next possession gave Michigan the lead for good.

Northwestern had several possessions to tie the game late, but Michigan’s intentional foul strategy paid off — barely.

Boo Buie’s hard 3 cut Northwestern’s deficit to two with 52 seconds left. Jones dug in the defense and made a foul. He did both, but it still didn’t seal the game. On the other end, Northwestern rebounded a missed free throw and then called a timeout, down three, with 12 seconds left.

Michigan fouled Pete Nance, seemingly on purpose, with nine seconds left. He missed both. Jaron Faulds, a walk-on, was fouled on the rebound. He also missed both, giving Northwestern another chance. Michigan fouled again to prevent a potential tie 3.

Northwestern made the first free throw, missed the second, got the rebound, but a wild 3-point attempt missed it all. A potential comeback inside was after the buzzer, and missed anyway.

Michigan has won five straight against Northwestern. The Wildcats fell to 9-9 (2-7), with all but one of their Big Ten losses in single digits.

Just over a minute into the second half, it looked like Brooks had turned the momentum squarely in Michigan’s favor. He boxed a 3-pointer and, seconds later, showed his hop to steal an out pass attempt. He slipped for a lay-up following a foul, converting an old-school three-point play.

In just eight seconds of playing time Wednesday, Michigan’s lead over Northwestern swelled from one to seven. A minute later, after Houstan and Brooks hit straight 3s, the margin was 48-37 with 17: 10 to play.

Northwestern held on, taking advantage of Michigan’s sloppy attack (nine turnovers in the second half) to get away. Ryan Greer’s corner 3 tied the game at 51 with 10 minutes remaining. His disputed 3, which beat the shot clock by a tenth of a second, gave Northwestern a 56-55 advantage with 7:57 to go. It wasn’t just the visitors’ first lead in almost 20 minutes of play. It started a 9-0 run. Meanwhile, Dickinson, after an inside foul, committed his fourth foul under his own basket with 7:25 to go. Juwan Howard called timeout with 5:03 to go and fired Dickinson after Northwestern went up 62-55.

Out of the group, Diabaté fouled and stopped the bleeding with a pair of free throws, and Michigan fought back. Good ball movement led to Jones’ corner 3. After Diabaté’s defense forced a turnover, the rookie took a pass from Dickinson and dived to tie the game at 62 with 3:24 remaining.

Dickinson fouled with 2:29 remaining and Northwestern regained the lead with the resulting free throws. His childhood friend came to pick him up. Williams scored a 3 late on the shot clock that gave Michigan a 65-64 lead with 2:08 to go. Diabaté fouled on the next possession and Northwestern tied with a free throw. Houstan’s 3 at the other end — which nearly scuffed the Crisler Center rafters — made it 68-65.

The Wildcats didn’t flinch, but Michigan got away with a win.

The Wolverines started with a hot shot, as they had in recent wins over Indiana and Maryland. Houstan had eight of Michigan’s top 16, but neither team could get much separation. Some early fouls led to numerous Howard substitutions. For a two-minute streak, Jones was the lone starter on the court, along with Kobe Bufkin, Williams, Brandon Johns Jr. and Faulds.

A Houstan free throw made Michigan 25-20 with 5:58 left in the half and marked the first time either team had led by more than four points. Brooks’ 3 soon after pushed the margin to six, but the Wildcats stayed close thanks to Ryan Young’s post moves. He scored 10 of his team’s first 24 points, matching his season average in the first 16 minutes.

Diabaté and Dickinson were both limited by two fouls in the first half. Dickinson came to mobile screens, an issue earlier in the season.

Michigan allowed a layup in the final seconds and took a 34-31 halftime lead. Houstan led the way with 12 points.

Notes and Comments:

+ After coming out of his slump a week ago against Maryland, Caleb Houstan said how important it was for him to get his first shot. He did it again on Wednesday, firing an errant pass near midfield a minute into the game and taking an uncontested shot from the top of the sideline (his toe was on the line). When Dickinson found him out of a double team for a corner 3 minutes later, Houstan buried him too. He continued to score, attacking the basket – often driving the baseline – to get to the foul line. He went 5 of 7 from the field and hit a huge late shot.

+ DeVante’ Jones, after a shaky start to the season, has been very impressive lately. He was 4-for-5 shooting and all six of his free throw attempts on Wednesday. He boxed his only 3-point attempt, and it was a big one. It’s 45% deep for the season.

+ After wins of 18 and 19 points, Michigan was tested on Wednesday. He had to find a way to win without his top scorer and rebounder on the floor for much of the night, including the final minutes. Northwestern may be near the bottom of the Big Ten, but it has proven it can hang with most Big Ten teams (Sunday’s blowout loss to Purdue being an exception). For a Michigan team battling to improve its NCAA Tournament summary, this was a key victory.

+ Michigan will visit East Lansing on Saturday for a 12:30 tip. The last time the rivals were supposed to play, on January 8, Michigan had lost two in a row and looked lost. The game ended up being postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Michigan. This time around, the Wolverines look better positioned to compete against Michigan State. The Spartans are 15-4 (6-2) after Tuesday’s one-point loss to Illinois.

+ It was the programme’s annual Pink Game, in support of the fight against breast cancer. Most of the Wolverines wore pink sneakers and socks, the student section was decked out in pink shirts, and the coaches wore apparel in support of Coaches vs Cancer. The women’s team’s pink game is Monday when they host Indiana in a potential top-10 game.

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