INDIANAPOLIS - Nothing makes sense.
With the clock running down on Northwestern's season Tre Demps pulled up for a midrange range jumper. It clanked off the back of the rim and fell to the court, seemingly representing Northwestern's postseason hopes. Then a miracle happened. The ball fell directly to Alex Olah who, with less than a second on the clock, put the ball back up and in to keep the season alive. It was divine intervention.
But fast forward to overtime, and once again there is a midrange jumper floating towards the rim. Only this time it's off the hand of Michigan's Zak Irvin and it falls. Michigan leads by 2 with only 3 seconds left. And five minutes later than it should have been, Northwestern's Big Ten Tournament is over. The Wolverines (21-11) held on to defeat Northwestern (20-12) 72-70 on Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Michigan jumped out to an early lead thanks to its three-point shooting. Using 8 quick points from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, including two threes, Michigan took an 14-3 lead in the opening minutes. Northwestern would fight back however, going on a 10-0 run midway through the half to cut the Wolverine lead to 2.
Then the shots stopped falling. After starting the half 6 of 8 from the field, Michigan only hit 5 more shots to finish 11-of-27, while Northwestern was only 1-of-13 after it cut the lead to two. Both teams played fantastic team defense, but the Wolverines did enough at the free throw line to take a 34-25 advantage into the half.
The start of the second half saw Michigan's lead balloon to 12, but it quickly turned back the Wildcats' way. Northwestern went on a 9-0 run thanks to 6 points from Alex Olah and a four-minute Wolverine scoring drought. Once again, the Wildcats had fought back from a double-digit deficit to make it a one-score game.
Out of a media timeout, Abdur-Rahkman hit another three-pointer and Michigan continued to hit free throws to rebuild a two-score lead. But the Wildcats would not be denied. Another 7-0 Northwestern run tied the game at 52 apiece, the first time the game had been tied since 3-3.
However, in a game of runs, Michigan went on one final run to pull away in the game's waning minutes. Starting with four minutes left, Michigan went on a modest 4-0 run, but combined with a Northwestern three minute scoring drought helped the Wolverines edge away. But as soon as the game seemed to be in the bag, Alex Olah made his move. The senior center scored 5 points down the stretch, including a putback at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.
Overtime was just as insane as regulation as Michigan jumped out to a 4-point lead only to trail by 1 with a minute left thanks to 5 quick points from Demps. But with under a minute to play and Michigan trailing by 3, Duncan Robinson hit a huge three to tie the game at 70. Then as the clock ran down, Irvin pulled up from midrange and hit a jumper that would ultimately prove the difference.
Olah led the way for Northwestern in what could be his last game as a Wildcat. He posted a double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Bryant McIntosh and Tre Demps were huge as well, scoring 19 and 21 points respectively. For Michigan it was a three headed monster as well. Abdur-Rahkman had 14 points and 8 rebounds, Zak Irvin had 19 points and 8 rebounds and Robinson contributed 21 points as well.
This loss eliminates Northwestern from the Big Ten Tournament and more or less ends any hope of an NIT bid. It remains to be seen if any other postseason tournaments such as the CBI or Vegas 16 are in play.
Back on Feb. 24, Northwestern was the team taking an early lead, jumping out to a 17-4 advantage in the early minutes of these teams' first matchup. Much of that was due to Northwestern switching from their usual zone defense to man to start that game. This confused Michigan, and Beilein admitted as much after the game. However with five days to prepare for the game Thursday, Michigan appeared more than ready for the Northwestern's defensive look... at least at the beginning.
Michigan shot well above average to start the game, but much of that was due to poor defensive play from Northwestern. Shooters were left open beyond the arc and no one picked up the ball handler in transition. For much of the rest of the game, Northwestern submitted one of its best defensive efforts of the entire season. Ball handlers were pushed towards the baseline and shooters were guarded well off-ball. Nothing was easy for the Wolverines as they had to rely on primarily contested jump shots and free throws to score.
Threes, Threes and More Threes
Both of these teams love to shoot three-pointers. In the first half, Northwestern only hit 8 shots, but 5 of them were three-pointers, the ratio for Michigan was 11 to 6. The two teams combined for 26 three-point attempts in the first half. While Northwestern strayed away from shooting threes a bit in the second half, Michigan used threes to stay alive. Every time Northwestern seemed to make a run, Michigan answered with a three-pointer. From the corner or the wing, contested or open, Michigan just continued to hit its three-pointers when it mattered.
Demps, Olah and McIntosh
Northwestern's scoring attack was a three-headed monster on Thursday. Alex Olah dominated down low, posting a double-double, while Tre Demps and Bryant McIntosh controlled the perimeter for the Wildcats. The three combined for 60 of Northwestern's 70 points. The play of Olah down low in the second half helped Northwestern even up the rebounding battle after losing by 6 in the first half. McIntosh and Demps were a combined 7-of-16 from three to help keep Northwestern solidly in the game.