Ten months ago, Northwestern strangled Michigan in a 61-52 victory at Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
The Wolverines had a rough day from the field, connecting on only 12-of-22 shots, as well as just 5-of-22 treys. Outside of Moe Wagner, nobody made those one or two necessary shots.
Tuesday night, the Wildcats dug in defensively once again. Fortunately for John Beilein, he brandishes more weapons in his offensive arsenal this year. The extra firepower provided the handful of shots needed to cobble together a key 62-60 road triumph.
Jordan Poole four-point play
Chris Collins, for all of his histrionics, is a damn good defensive coach. He has the Wildcats ranked No. 27 nationally in defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy.
He achieves this with a rangy lineup — nobody shorter than 6-foot-4 among the starters — that’s able to harass in man-to-man or junk zone.
Jordan Poole took advantage of this aggressiveness in the early going. He forced 6-foot-6 guard Ryan Taylor to bop him twice on three-pointers. He made all three free throws on the first one, but sunk the attempt the second time for the rare four-point play.
It built an early 14-7 lead, led to an exquisite reaction and also forced Northwestern to stretch its defense. This led to several easy buckets inside en route to a 36-point first half.
Passing, defense stretch first-half lead to 12
The passing that led to this Ignas Brazdeikis three is just perfection.
The ball-screen action between Charles Matthews and Jon Teske draws respect from the Wildcat defense — first with Matthews beyond the arc and then Teske rolling towards the rim. The response leads one defender into no man’s land: challenge Poole or Brazdeikis.
The Wolverines started threatening a blowout with consecutive transition buckets off steals. With Teske in a bit of foul trouble, the defense lacked its typical rim protector. It made up for that with six steals.
Brazdeikis keeps offense afloat in second half
Another game, another night of Brazdeikis filling up the stat sheet. He scored 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting, snared four boards and dished out two assists.
All of these skills were on display early in the second half with Northwestern clawing back. Overall, the Wolverines made seven more field goals compared to last February’s loss. Brazdeikis’ drives and put backs largely made up that difference.
The body control to whip the ball from behind the basket into the bucket is simply impressive. Add in an outlet pass for a Poole dunk, and Brazdeikis continues to flex his versatility.
Poole game-winning dunk
Despite the earlier threes, Poole struggled from deep, hitting just 1-of-5. He responded by attacking the rim, ending up with 15 points on mostly layups and dunks.
The same explosiveness he shows in creating space for his shot was on display with the dunk. His first step away from the Teske screen was all he needed to rumble into the lane and slam it home.
It also provided life to a team hanging in the balance in its toughest game of the young season.
Defense forces an off-balance shot to win
No. 5 @umichbball had won every game this season by at least 17 until tonight.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) December 5, 2018
Northwestern came this close to knocking them off, but the Wolverines win a thriller to improve to 9-0: pic.twitter.com/AdBulYADOV
It’s almost redundant to say Michigan’s defense played well. The No. 1 efficiency unit in the country held the home team under a point per possession, just like in every game before.
However, some weaknesses showed Tuesday night, particularly when Teske hit the bench after picking up his third foul. Austin Davis messed up a few rotations, leading to easy looks at the rim. On top of that, Northwestern swooshed a few tough looks, hitting 35 percent from deep.
On the road in the Big Ten, that’s just bound to happen sometimes.
When it mattered most, though, it applied the necessary pressure. The best shot Northwestern could get was an off-balance trey after some fumbling of the ball.
You take that if you’re Luke Yaklich and company. Michigan survived after that desperate attempt ricocheted off the front end.