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Rapid Reaction: Michigan defeats Northwestern 72-70 in yet another heartbreaker

The Wildcats led 62-57 with five minutes to go, but it wasn’t enough.

NCAA Basketball: Northwestern at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Déjà vu all over again.

Once again, Northwestern (9-9, 2-7 B1G) held a late lead against a Big Ten foe, this time at Michigan (10-7, 4-3 B1G). Once again, the Wildcats failed to pull out the victory, falling 72-70 at the Crisler Center.

The scoring was fairly balanced for the Wildcats, with five players in double-digits points-wise. Pete Nance accounted for 14 points while leading the ‘Cats on the boards with six rebounds and in assists with four, while Boo Buie hit a number of would’ve-been clutch threes en route to a 13 point performance in the ill-fated affair for his team. Michigan’s Caleb Houstan led all scorers with 18 points.

The scoreboard remained blank for the first minute of play, but, after Robbie Beran turned the ball over near NU’s defensive baseline, Houstan opened up the scoring with a long two-point jumper. DeVante Jones added a mid-range shot of his own on the Wolverines’ next possession to make it a 4-0 ballgame, but scores from Pete Nance and Robbie Beran on the Wildcats’ next two turns with the ball knotted the score. The teams then traded threes — one from Houstan and one from Beran — to leave things tied at seven apiece at the under-16 media timeout.

As the half progressed, the ‘Cats remained tight with their hosts, seeming to answer every score from the Maize and Blue with immediate points of their own. Between the 12:53 and 10:05 marks, the teams strung together eight consecutive possessions that resulted in points on the board, leaving Michigan with a one-point lead halfway through the first 20 minutes of play. The two minutes that followed, though, featured only two combined points for either side, which came in the form of a Kobe Bufkin layup that gave the home side a 22-19 advantage.

Scoring remained hard to come by for the following few minutes, with NU held without a field goal for a stretch of over five minutes. By the time Nance ended the drought with a two-point bucket at the 4:50 mark, though, the Wolverines’ lead had returned to the three-point margin of a few minutes prior.

During this cold stretch, a number of key fouls occurred on both sides of the action. Hunter Dickinson picked up his second moving screen infraction of the game with 7:12 left in the half. Juwan Howard opted to leave his star big man in the game, and on the ensuing Michigan possession, he drew contact from Boo Buie on what looked like a charge. However, a blocking foul was instead called on Buie for his second foul of the contest.

As the half came to a close, the offenses picked up ever so slightly. The final five minutes of first half competition featured 20 total points, the last two of which came two seconds before the buzzer when Boo Buie drove and sank a layup to leave the score at 34-31 in favor of the Wolverines at the break. Northwestern’s bigs led the way offensively in the first half, with Ryan Young leading all ‘Cats with 10 points and both Pete Nance and Robbie Beran close behind with eight each.

The scoring got off to a started in a similar fashion to how it finished in the first half: with a Boo Buie layup. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, their progress towards erasing UM’s lead would soon be deterred, as Eli Brooks went on a momentary tear. Brooks put up eight points in just over a minute. His contributions, when combined with Houstan’s second three of the night, put the Wolverines ahead by 11 with 17:10 to play, prompting Chris Collins to call a timeout.

Following the 30-second break, Northwestern began to chip away at their hosts’ biggest lead of the night. Through a combination of free throws from Nance and Chase Audige, a pair of layups from Audige and Ty Berry and a Boo Buie three, NU moved back within four with 13:57 to play. Just under four minutes later, the game was tied at 51 when Ryan Greer nailed a shot from beyond the arc.

The ‘Cats continued to score, and the Wolverines continued to self-destruct to help their cause. An acrobatic, shot-clock buzzer-beating three by Ryan Greer gave NU since the 11:20 mark of the first half, and the Wildcats didn’t stop there. A pair of free throws from Nance and two layups from Buie and Beran put the underdogs up seven with just over five minutes left and forced Juwan Howard to call timeout. Between Collins’ first second half timeout and Howard’s, Northwestern went on a 25-7 run.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Big Ten game in 2022 for Northwestern without some late game struggles. The momentary break was enough to reset the energy, as the Wolverines spouted off a 7-0 run to tie the game. Ryan Young then drew a foul on Dickinson, fouling him out of the game and picking up two points to give NU the lead back for the time being. However, the Michigan answered with a three to retake the lead with 2:08 to go.

On the ensuing NU possession, Nance got the ‘Cats back to the line, drawing a foul from Diabate to knock him of the game, but hit only one of the two corresponding free throws. Michigan capitalized on his miss, with Houstan hitting yet another three to extend his team’s lead to five. A clutch three from Buie put NU back within two, but Jones drew a foul while driving to the rim on the next UM possession to make it a four-point game.

Ryan Young was sent to the line on NU’s next turn with the ball and hit only the first of his two free throws, but an offensive rebound from Buie gave NU new life. Collins called his final timeout, and shortly after the inbound, Nance was fouled, sending him to the line with a chance to make it a one-point affair with nine seconds left. Nance missed both attempts from the line, but even then, NU still had a chance after Daron Faulds missed both of his shots from the charity stripe.

Boo Buie was fouled running up the court and hit his first of two attempts. The second bounced out, but Nance recovered and dished to Julian Roper II, who tried a game-winning three that missed, ending the game once and for all.

Northwestern will return to action Saturday when Illinois comes to Evanston.