It wasn’t easy but not many teams have walked over the Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan this year. Purdue and Illinois won one possession games after late Northwestern collapses. Wisconsin and Minnesota weren’t so fortunate, they both made the bus ride home from Evanston empty handed. As a Michigan fan you have to be happy with a road win against a team with only three home losses in conference play to the top three teams in the league, no matter how ugly.
The player of the game was Manny Harris. Manny struggled early on in the first half and picked up his second personal foul with 11 minutes to play. Harris sat for the last eleven minutes of the but the supporting cast did enough to keep Michigan in the game. Manny got off to a hot start in the second half with a 9-0 run of his own that gave Michigan life and finished with 25 points in the second half and overtime. Harris finished the game with 26 points on 15 shots, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 assists, 1 block, and 1 turnover in his best half of the season.
Going back to the checklist for beating Northwestern, I’d say Michigan was lucky to win this one. We repeatedly turned it over, struggled from long range, and didn’t do a good job on the glass. Looking at the numbers it is even clearer that the only reason Michigan won this game was due to a herculean effort by Manny Harris. The two factors Michigan won were shooting defense and the free throw battle. Michigan posted a free throw rate of 60% which is one of their best marks this season. The numbers are pretty skewed because the officials decided that they were going to send people to the line at will in the second half. 45 fouls were called in the game and there were 38 free throws combined — most of which came in the second half.
Michigan held Northwestern to an eFG% of only 43%, their third lowest total of the season. Michigan’s solid defense did a great job of forcing Northwestern into bad shots. Northwestern’s scoring duo of Craig Moore and Kevin Coble combined to shoot 7 of 27 from the field. The improvement in shooting defense has been remarkable since CJ Lee entered the starting lineup. The last four games have been Michigan’s first four game stretch where they held opponents to an eFG% under 50%. I don’t have time to go through backcourt numbers but CJ Lee did a remarkable job on Talor Battle, AJ Price, Kalin Lucas, and Michael Thompson over the last four games.
The turnovers were awful today. Michigan turned the ball over on 25.8% of their possessions and really struggled with Northwestern’s pressure defense all game. You might not expect it from looking at them but Northwestern forces turnovers just as well as anyone else in the country. They force turnovers on 25.1% of opponents possessions (14th nationally), a better number than teams that are known for their defense like UCLA and Duke.
The turnovers at the end of the game were frustrating and nearly cost Michigan the game. Fans want to see Kelvin Grady on the floor but John Beilein is learning just how important defense is to winning in the Big Ten. Michigan can’t afford to give up points in bunches if they want to stay in games. CJ Lee is the best on-the-ball defender on this team and that is going to keep him on the floor. When Grady got on the floor late he was matched up with Craig Moore and allowed Moore to get a wide open look from three that would have tied the game because he didn’t fight through a screen (this is a theme). Would I like to see Grady play a little bit? Sure, but I don’t think Beilein is going to let him sniff the court until he steps it up on defense.
This was a “must win” and Michigan did just enough to pull it out. Despite a couple disappointing losses in conference play Michigan has won their fair share of games they had to have including the Illinois, Iowa, and Northwestern home games. Thursday’s game against the struggling Gophers is every bit as important as this one. Minnesota has dropped three of their last four, their win was 62-54 at home over the Hoosiers. A win on Thursday would move Michigan back to .500 in conference play and setup an exciting home stretch.
- Manny Harris: Extraordinary game from Manny. He started out slow and was hoisting too many three point shots but once he started getting to the basket he took over the game. Manny hit huge shots in overtime as well as late in the second half and credit for this win lies firmly on his shoulders.
- CJ Lee: There is no denying that CJ struggled a bit, he turned it over a couple times and almost let the game slip away down the stretch in the second half. In the end, despite missing 2 out of 4 free throws early in the game, CJ hit the two biggest free throws of the game that just about iced the game for Michigan.
- DeShawn Sims: Peedi played hard for the most part but was limited by foul trouble and not getting the ball enough. He could do a better job of establishing position but his teammates could do a better job getting him the ball when he does get position. Peedi finished with 8 points on 4 of 6 shooting, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 turnovers before fouling out on what could be called nothing other than a phantom foul. I also have to give Peedi credit for finishing the big dunk in overtime despite Kevin Coble sticking his arm through the basket (see above).
- Laval Lucas-Perry: Great to see Laval get some of his offensive game back. 10 points including a three point make and five free throws, he definitely had a couple of very careless turnovers. His drive and finish on the fast break was really something but I think Laval needs to stick to 10-15 minutes per game for the next couple to work him back slowly.
- Stu Douglass: Not his best offensive performance but he did a great job on Craig Moore. Moore is a 42% shooter from behind the arc and Stu stuck to him like glue. 4 shots, 4 misses, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers isn’t great but I’ll take it with the defense.
- Zack Novak: This is probably what we would expect from a consistent Zack Novak night in and night out: 7 points (2-5 3pt), 7 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers. Zack plays hard and he gave up a lot of size but hustled on the glass and for loose balls while also knocking down two triples.
- Zack Gibson: Gibson played a very solid 19 minutes. 6 points, 4 rebounds, and a monster block for Zack is about all you can ask for. Gibson has really struggled at the stripe but other than that I have been pretty pleased with what he has given in quick bursts.
- Anthony Wright: Ant was forced into action when Novak and Harris got in foul trouble and he hit a big three in the first half to go along with two turnovers, an assist, and a steal. Asking Anthony Wright to guard Kevin Coble really isn’t fair to him though. It appears that Beilein would rather go with Ant than Shepherd. Anthony is 4-7 from long range in the last four games and 3 of 4 in the last three.
- Dave Merritt: Hit a big first half tree but otherwise didn’t do much. Dave is never going to be a big scoring threat but as long as he can hit the occasional three point shot he will still get his 10-15 minutes per game I think. According to the box score he didn’t turn the ball over but he also got backdoored pretty good once. I’m sure the argument will be that Grady deserves those 10-15 minutes but it appears that Beilein is siding with the 5th (6th?) year senior in this one.