At least no hearts were broken tonight.
Despite holding Michigan (15-9, 6-7 B1G) to an 0-11 start from the field, the Wolverines blitzed Northwestern (6-17, 1-12 B1G) en route to a 79- 54 blowout at Welsh-Ryan. Michigan outplayed the ’Cats in all facets of the game as Northwestern slipped to their twelfth conference loss.
Coach Chris Collins benched Pete Nance and handed Robbie Beran the start yet again. Nance has had a tough sophomore season, but Collins was a little mum on his absence from the starting five.
“He’s a young player and he’s just trying to figure it out,” said Collins. “He’s been putting the time in, [and] he wants to be a good player. He’s still very much in the early part of his career. He’ll break out here pretty soon.”
The key to Northwestern’s this season, quite frankly, is to hope their opposition goes ice cold from everywhere. For the first four minutes of the game, that plan was working quite well. Michigan began the game 0-11, missing everything from bunnies near the rim to decently open looks from midrange and three. The ‘Cats collapsed on star center Jon Teske whenever a Wolverine guard dumped him the ball, and nobody else could cover. Eli Brooks broke the dry spell with a three, his first of three from downtown in the first half. Despite the slump, Northwestern only led 4-0.
“Us not being able to get that separation came back to haunt us,” said Collins.
Michigan took the lead on a three from Franz Wagner, and built up their first half lead to 16 at one point. Interestingly enough, Coach Juwan Howard rested key starters for a majority of the half, most notably seniors Teske and Zavier Simpson. Intead, Michigan’s bench took over. Center Austin Davis went 3-3 from the field in the first as part of a 24-5 run from the Wolverines to end the half. The bench contributed with 15 of those, more than doubling Northwestern’s tally. Jared Jones provided a spark off the bench for Northwestern, most importantly during a minute-long stretch where he crossed up Davis for a floater and forced Simpson into a charge on the other end. There was nothing much else to be said for Northwestern’s performance in the first 20.
Michigan’s lead ballooned to over 20 in the second. Livers, Teske, and co. simply outplayed Northwestern for the better part of the last twenty. The ’Cats showed some spark, cutting the Michigan deficit to within 12 with less than 10 minutes left in the second. The Wolverines blew the game away with a fifteen-second stretch that has to rank among the worst for Northwestern from just this season. After two rejections on Miller Kopp, Livers sprinted down the court for a dunk, Boo Buie was immediately called for carrying, Michigan recorded two offensive rebounds on the opposite end, and Brooks hit an open lay-in.
Offensively Northwestern shot their way to a 32.2% clip, including a putrid 23.8% from three. Michigan pulled all of their starters with two minutes left, but the brave Northwestern fans who stayed were treated to a rare on-court appearance from Tino Malnati.
Coach Collins noticed a notable lack of energy on the court.
“They were faster to the ball, [and] we had a hard time in transition,” said Collins. “They have a lot of guys who have won a lot of games. It wasn't our night, and we’ve gotta bounce back and get ready for the next one.”
The Wolverines ran away down the stretch for a 79-54 victory. Northwestern never seriously threatened, and perhaps more importantly, nobody looked as if they could help this team storm back. Miller Kopp finished 3-12 from the field, and Buie finished 1-9. Scorelines like those, especially against a perennial conference contender in Michigan, just won’t cut it.
Northwestern next plays at #13 Penn State on Saturday, Feb. 15 at 11 a.m.