Road wins are often tough to come by in the Big Ten, regardless of who the opponent is. That’s why the Michigan Wolverines weren’t looking past the Northwestern Wildcats when they traveled to Evanston, Illinois Saturday afternoon. The prime objective for Bill Carmody’s club is to slow the game down and control tempo. Early on versus the Maize & Blue, his squad did just that. Further inhibiting Michigan’s ability to increase the pace was the Wildcats decision to start the game in a 2-1-2 soft press zone. It was clear they were going to test Michigan’s patience on the offensive end of the floor. The deliberate style of play by the home team resulted in a 26-21 lead at the 2:39 mark. To Michigan’s credit, though, they never got to frustrated.
Young and old collaborated to bring the Wolverines back. Freshman Reed Baker came off the bench to nail his second three-pointer of the half, before Lester Abram converted a lay-up to tie the score at 26. The two teams eventually went to the locker room knotted at 28.
The Wildcats had been ice-cold from beyond the arc early on, but they knocked down 4/5 threes in the latter part of the half because they began to get too many open looks. Michigan headman Tommy Amaker knew his club would have to make a few defensive adjustments to limit those opportunities in the second.
Amaker’s intermission tweaks worked, as the Wildcats were 1/9 in the opening minutes after the break, including a 0/4 clip from behind the arc.
"It was important for us at halftime to look at a little more zone,” Amaker said. “We played that in the second half a little bit. I was really pleased with how we guarded and changed defenses. You saw us at the end of the first half change some things, to trap and to double team. I thought we threw something at them that they were looking for in the second half to keep them off guard. But that is the purpose of changing sometimes, just to put it on their radar. I just thought our kids really defended hard all game long."
Michigan’s defense stayed stout, but their own offensive struggles prevented them from blowing the game open. They managed to only score five points in the first six-and-a-half minutes, leaving the score tied at 33. That’s when the Wolverines got a boost from their freshmen that put them up for good.
Reed Baker knocked down another big triple to give Michigan the lead and Deshawn Sims converted a lay-up put the home team up by five. The Wildcats battled back, but Ekpe Udoh was right there to answer. After giving Michigan valuable minutes in the first half with Courtney Sims in foul trouble, Udoh stepped up again, nailing a jumper and then grabbing an offensive rebound the next time down the floor before converting another bucket to put the visitors up 42-37 with 9:58 to go.
Northwestern managed to cut the lead to three, but the Wolverines got a big three-point basket from Lester Abram at the 6:05 mark and went 9/10 from the free throw line down the stretch to help bring home the 58-46 victory.
On the game, Reed Baker was the only Michigan player in double figures with 11 points. Ekpe Udoh had a strong showing as well, notching eight points, seven rebounds, and two blocks shots.
“We really felt coming into this game, a guy like Reed Baker could give us quality minutes,” Amaker said. “He certainly did that. He may have even played more than I anticipated. He was a factor on the floor. He played his heart out. Ekpe (Udoh) and Deshawn (Sims) gave us some quality minutes up front. We went with some different lineups throughout the game. Lester (Abram) and Ronnie (Coleman) played a little up front because we had to given what they were running and how we were trying to attack and score against their zone."
Next up for the Wolverines is a road match-up next Saturday with the Purdue
Boilermakers. Tip-off is scheduled for 8 PM.