Final Horn: Michigan 72, Northwestern 70 (OT)

Zach Shaw

With its back against the wall, the Michigan basketball team needed a response in the Big Ten Tournament to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive. An opening-round matchup against Northwestern was a good chance to do it.

The Wolverines didn’t wait long to respond, either. After an opening Wildcat 3-pointer, Michigan went on a 16-0 run to take control. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the momentum didn’t last, as Northwestern chipped away at the lead throughout the game, finally closing the gap with three minutes to go.

And that’s when the fun started.

Closing the gap with three minutes to go, the two teams duked it out in a back-and-forth, overtime affair. With its season on the line and the clock waning, junior forward Zak Irvin hit a clutch jumper with just three seconds to go. It proved to be the dagger, as Michigan stayed alive, beating the Wildcats, 72-70 in the extra period.

Beating Northwestern gives the Wolverines (10-8 Big Ten, 21-11 overall) at least one more chance to clinch a postseason bid, taking on the conference’s top seed and No. 10 ranked Indiana on Friday.

Before that, here’s our immediate reaction from Thursday’s win.

MVP: Duncan Robinson. The redshirt sophomore forward had cooled off in recent weeks, averaging just 6.67 points per game in Michigan’s last six games. But Robinson was on fire in the first half, scoring 14 points. He had a quiet second half, but bounced back from missing the late free throw which eventually sent the game to overtime by nailing two three-pointers in the extra period. His 21 points tied a career high.

It was over when… It nearly looked over in the first half, when Michigan couldn’t miss en route to a 16-0 run and flirted with a first-round blowout. But the Wildcats chipped away at the lead throughout the game, finally retaking the lead with just over three minutes to go in the game. It looked to be over once again at the end of regulation, but Alex Olah corralled an offensive rebound and tied the game at the horn.

From there, it was a back-and-forth game. The game wasn’t over until junior forward Zak Irvin scored his 18th and 19th points on a jumper with 3.0 seconds to go to seal the win.

Key Stat: Though he started slow, senior forward Alex Olah ended the game with 20 points and 13 rebounds, once again dominating the Wolverines. In his last four contests against Michigan, the 7-foot Romanian is averaging 21.5 points per game, and nearly led to the Wolverines’ downfall in the second half.

Unsung Hero: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanMichigan had struggled to start games off on the right foot in recent weeks, falling into double-digit first-half deficits in three of its final five games. But the Wolverines were able to avoid it thanks to Abdur-Rahkman. The sophomore guard scored the team’s first eight points en route to 14 total points. He also chipped in eight rebounds and three assists, and served as an energy boost on both ends of the court.

Room for improvement: Michigan managed to win this game in spite of itself, but will have to play worlds better to beat Indiana tomorrow. Mark Donnal struggled with foul trouble in a woefully inconsistent performance. The Wolverines were outrebounded and just couldn’t make the critical plays down the stretch to ice away the win, even stepping out of bounds in the final second rather than dribbling out the clock. Tomorrow is another day, but Michigan will need to show improvement to keep its tournament hopes alive.  

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  • Patrick Wright

    I am going to quibble with the “it was over when” portion. It was over when Northwestern missed a decent but not great three point attempt as time expired.

    • Indiana_Matt

      true. about had a heart attack.

      but we get to play again! and we have improved on last year’s win total by 5 (and counting).

  • Champswest

    Strong game by Robinson at both ends of the floor. I can’t believe some UM fans don’t think he belongs at this level.
    I hope Irvin gets the monkey off his back about playing in his home state and goes out tomorrow and plays relaxed.

    • bobohle

      I thought he did a pretty good job of that today.

  • A2MIKE

    What little chance we had of beating IU probably left with that OT period. Guaranteed that we play well in the first half and then get “gassed” in the 2nd half and IU runs away with a game that looks more lopsided than it was in reality.

    • ChiMan

      I’m not sure that I agree. Mark was on the bench for a good part of the game and I think they are going to let it all hang out tomorrow. Feeling a lot like more of the pressure is on Indiana, in regards to seeding. I could be wrong but I hope you are lol

      • bobohle

        I agree. I think Donnal’s foul trouble today may be a blessing in disguise. Doyle was really huffing and puffing in the OT. Maybe we see some Wilson tomorrow.

  • jemblue

    I hate, hate, hate these games played in the middle of the workday. All I could do was catch the occasional score . . . agonizing.

  • Bigrange

    Michigan can play with IU. Get out on their shooters and challenge their shots. Our bench will have to give some good minutes. Can’t expect the starters to play 38+ minutes and have a chance to win.

    • Mike

      Michigan hasn’t been able to challenge any teams shot the entire season. Fat chance it happens with Yogi breaking the defense down from our inability to stay in front of anyone

  • ChipperFliet

    This game sums up the last half of the season. Awful decision making down the stretch of reg. The two guys who were playing great, Duncan and Maar, barely touched the ball, (I don’t believe Duncan even did) until MaAAR drove and dished to Donnal for an easy lay in. Until then the previous 7 possessions was Irvin and DW taking awful shots. Fortunately Irvin hit a low % turn around jumper. I know crunch time is when you want your “seniors” to step up (read – experience), but these two just are not capable.

    Thank goodness JB called that TO in OT with 50 secs to go to ensure that got a good look.

    I hope next year he moves Walton to the 2, let MAAR run the point until the X- man is ready to take over.

    • A2MIKE


    • gobluemd16

      Yup. Irvin and Derrick were pretty terrible until that last shot. Zak was shooting contested mid range two after contested two down the entire stretch. Dont see it but we would have to play significantly better to beat IU