Despite a slow start for their offense, and after trailing for much of the game, Michigan was able to find a groove in the second half. After clawing back from eleven down, Michigan and Northwestern traded the lead in the waning moments and with the game tied, Irvin would miss a game winning shot with time clicking down. With a little over a second left on the clock it looked like overtime in Evanston. Apparently, the basketball gods were looking down on the Wildcats. A full court heave to Dererk Pardon and a layup at the buzzer gave Northwestern a 67-65 win over Michigan.
Ramifications of this game
Much of the debate heading into the game was which of these two teams needed this game more. Some believed Michigan was closer to the bubble and needed another win. While others thought Michigan’s recent surge had catapulted them up the seed lines and the win over Purdue punched their ticket. Northwestern was the team that was floundering and despite a couple good wins, they needed this game to cement their first trip to the Big Dance. I believe Northwestern was already going to be dancing, but regardless, this win locked them up. The Wildcat faithful believed that too, as the court was stormed after this monumental win. For Michigan, I believe they are still in the tournament field. This win would have helped them climb the seed ladder. A close loss to a tournament team, on the road, shouldn’t change that.
Derrick Walton Jr.
The senior guard continues to amaze as his last collegiate season winds down. Despite a slow first half for him, he would take over in the second and end up leading the team in scoring with 15 points, while also adding six assists. Four three pointers, especially the one he added a free throw to for a four point play, were great and all, but some of his assists were even better. The one which stands out is the fast break bounce pass he threaded through about four defenders to Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman for a nice dunk. His playmaking was on display throughout the second half, as he tried to carry his team to another win. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, the Wolverines were just short.
A few flaws
Losing a close game like Michigan just did can be heartbreaking. However, the Wolverines gained valuable experience playing against a team desperate for a win. They also never panicked when they were down double digits and got good practice in a close late game situation. An Irvin missed three attempt could have been the deciding factor at the end that completely changed the feel of this game. However, there were a few troubling errors that Michigan had throughout the game. Most importantly, they weren’t their usual selves at the free throw line. They made just 11 of their 17 attempts. Free throws could have been the difference at the end. They also had a stretch of turnovers and fouls (amassing nine and fifteen respectively) that blunted momentum in the second half.
Also concerning, despite their seeming advantage down low with Moe Wagner, it was Northwestern who amassed their points in the paint. While Wagner was held to just eight points and did not look close to as strong as in the last time out against Purdue. At times, Wagner, Irvin, and DJ Wilson have disappeared during games. Michigan needs all hands on deck if they hope to advance during the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament as well.
Michigan now sits at 19-11 and 9-8 in the Big Ten conference with just one game remaining in the regular season. They will travel to Lincoln to take on a Nebraska squad they were lucky to escape against while at Crisler. The game will be on Sunday at 8PM ET and can be viewed on the Big Ten Network. After that, the Big Ten tournament starts and then the madness really begins.
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