In a season devoid of a quality road win, Northwestern men's basketball was on the precipice of breaking through tonight in Ann Arbor. The 'Cats (17-11, 5-10 B1G) did basically everything right ... except win. In a game that was eerily similar to the Ohio State road contest earlier this month, NU faltered down the stretch, falling 72-63 to the Michigan Wolverines (20-9, 10-6 B1G).
Throughout the year, coach Chris Collins has emphasized the importance of weathering the initial storm when his team plays on the road. But for once, the opposing home team found itself weathering a storm of its own out of the gates. NU jumped out to a 10-0 lead, and led 17-4 seven minutes in on the strength of seven early points from Alex Olah, who, per usual against the Wolverines, put up big numbers. The senior center scored 19 on an 8-for-17 shooting performance from the field.
Michigan spent the rest of the evening playing catch-up, and, eventually, it did. The Wolverines surged back to cut their deficit to just 29-28 at halftime, and after shooting just 25 percent early on, finished the half on an 8-3 run and raised their team shooting percentage to 48 percent.
Nonetheless, Northwestern was effective out of the gate again at the beginning of the second half. The 'Cats grabbed a nine-point lead and held it over the first five minutes of the half. But little by little, Michigan chipped away. After drawing even for the first time on an Aubrey Dawkins three-pointer with 11:10 left, Michigan took its first lead, 46-44, with 9:14 left on a couple of Kameron Chatman free throws.
Northwestern took back the lead, 48-47, with a Gavin Skelly three-pointer at the 7:36 mark, and had a 54-52 lead following an Olah jumper at the 5:23 mark. However, Dawkins was a thorn in the 'Cats' side yet again, nailing another three-pointer with 4:26 left to give Michigan a lead, 57-54, that they would not relinquish.
NU kept its deficit within three for a little while, but picked a bad time for an 0-for-6 field goal drought and watched UM ice the game from the line. The Wolverines outscored the 'Cats by 22 over the rest of the game after initially falling behind 17-4, including a 44-34 margin in the second half.
On a night when Olah stole the show, Tre Demps and Aaron Falzon quietly put up big nights of their own, each scoring 14. Falzon was particularly hot from beyond the arc, where he was 4-for-8. Michigan's B1G All-Name Team candidate Muhammad Ali Abdul-Rahkman led the way with 21 points.
Northwestern, on NIT life support at this point, will get a chance to bounce back against the worst team in the Big Ten on Saturday afternoon, as the Rutgers Scarlet Knights roll into town in search of their first conference win this season.