The Michigan basketball team twice couldn’t make game-clinching plays in Tuesday’s eventual 82-78 double overtime loss to Northwestern. While the result was disheartening, and, in many ways, emblematic of the 2014-15 season, there were several positives and learning situations for the Wolverines. We take a look in Five Key Plays.
1) Aubrey Dawkins powers Michigan early
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for the Wolverines was the reemergence of Aubrey Dawkins, who had recently struggled with his jumper. He had no such issues Tuesday, scoring 15 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first half alone.
The forward’s productive night began early, as he used a ball screen to split the top of the 2-3 zone and hit a floater. Seconds later came a good read to intercept an outlet pass, leading to a breakaway dunk.
Ten minutes into the game, Dawkins capped a 12-0 Michigan run with a three-pointer over the zone as the Wolverines began to take control.
The freshman didn’t miss until the second half and finished with 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
2) Wolverines pull away late in 2nd half
After the Maryland game, Zak Irvin said the game had begun to slow down for him, and he proved that Tuesday. With six minutes left in a close game, the sophomore contributed a pair of big plays — ones he likely wouldn’t have made earlier this year — to pad Michigan’s lead entering the final stretch.
Irvin drove by Tre Demps, shot-faked and then hit a short jumper over a double-team to give the Wolverines a one-point lead. A minute later, he used a Ricky Doyle screen to get around Demps again, but Alex Olah forced Irvin to the baseline. Still, the forward found a passing lane to Spike Albrecht at the top of the key, and the guard head faked and buried a long jumper.
With three minutes remaining, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman freed himself to hit a shot clock-beating three-pointer to put his team up six, and it seemed as if Michigan was on its way to a hard-fought road victory.
3) Tre Demps ties game at the end of regulation
For how well Irvin played, it seemed fitting that he was at the line to seal the victory. And it seemed he was about to — he had just knocked down four clutch free throws, after all.
But the sophomore missed the front end of the one-and-one, and Northwestern immediately got the ball to Demps. Despite great on-ball defending from Albrecht, the Wildcat guard drove left and hit a stepback three-pointer to tie the game.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie to you; I had my head down,” Irvin told reporters. “But my teammates were right there, and the coaching staff was right there saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got overtime, we’ve got another five minutes to play.’
“When it was crunch time, I wanted the ball in my hands.”
4) Three-pointers guide Michigan through first overtime
The 2-3 zone allows for open three-pointers, and the Wolverines took advantage, going 11-for-24 on the night. That included a 3-for-3 showing in the first overtime, helping guide Michigan to a six-point lead with 16 seconds left.
Irvin buried the first one, rotating to the top of the key and hitting the catch-and-shoot trey from well beyond the arc. Then Albrecht one-upped the forward with a deep three-pointer of his own, using a ball screen from Irvin to get the look.
With a minute left in a tie game, Vic Law left his spot at the back of the 2-3 zone, and, despite pointing him out to his teammates, no one picked up Aubrey Dawkins, who recognized the weak spot in the left corner. Albrecht delivered the pass, and Dawkins didn’t miss, giving him a career-high 21 points and again putting the Wolverines on the brink of winning.
5) Demps beats the buzzer to force 2OT
A lot had to go wrong for Michigan lose. Albrecht, who entered as the Big Ten’s best free throw shooter in conference play, missed from the line, keeping Northwestern within two possessions.
Then, Demps hit a three-pointer, the Wolverines committed a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play, Michigan chose not to foul, and Demps hit yet another trey at the buzzer.
What’s more, Michigan had a timeout to use on the inbounds play, but Albrecht fired to Irvin, who couldn’t control the ball. (Max Bielfeldt was wide open at half court, but Albrecht either didn’t see him or wasn’t comfortable with the long pass.)
Northwestern got the ball in to JerShon Cobb, and a pair of screens gave Demps the separation he needed from Abdur-Rahkman to get free in the corner. Bielfeldt closed out perfectly, but the guard again hit the clutch shot. All in all, it was an excellent sideline out of bounds set from Northwestern as it resulted in an open shot for the guy that had gotten the Wildcats to this point.
John Beilein later explained the players opted not to foul up three.
“He sure as hell wasn’t going to hit another one,” Albrecht said he thought at the time.
2OT: Vic Law puts Northwestern in control
The Wildcats all but sealed the improbable result on Vic Law’s three-pointer with a minute left in double overtime.
The forward was simply open in the right corner, Bryant McIntosh whipped the ball over, and Michigan — running the 2-3 zone — didn’t rotate quite fast enough. Law didn’t miss the open look, and despite an Irvin three-pointer with 20 seconds left, Northwestern made its free throws and held on.