Maize-shucking leaves Wildcats in hunt for NIT (Men’s Basketball)

Anthony Tao and Anthony Tao

When players pass between their legs and alley-oops drop through the basket from 25 feet, you know something’s going right.

The Wildcats made 11 of their first 14 shots, held Michigan without a field goal for the first eight minutes and led 30-6 after 12 minutes Saturday. Among the highlights was a running, two-handed lob pass from Michael Jenkins that found nylon.

On another occasion, Mohamed Hachad bounced a pass between his legs on a fast break, and Jenkins received the ball and laid it in.

It was that kind of night for Northwestern, which cruised to a 69-53 win in front of 5,849 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“Wednesday was kind of a struggle, but we threw it away and went to the scouting report for Michigan,” said center Vince Scott, referring to the Cats’ loss earlier in the week at No. 1 Illinois. The sophomore had 12 points, shooting 4-of-6 from 3-point range, grabbing six rebounds and leading the team with five assists.

“When an alley-oop goes in from half-court, you know it’s going to be a decent day, ” said Scott, who leads the Big Ten in 3-point shooting percentage in conference play at 55.2 percent.

Michigan (13-16, 4-11 Big Ten), which has lost 11 of 12, returned with a 17-6 run to end the first half but never cut NU’s lead to single digits.

If the Cats (14-13, 6-8) win one of their next two games — home Wednesday against No. 10 Michigan State or at Indiana on Saturday — they will ensure a .500 record and be postseason eligible for the first time since 2002.

“It’s in the back of our heads, everybody’s thinking about it,” said forward Vedran Vukusic, who scored 26 points on 11-of-13 shooting. “We never talk about it with coaches, but we all know what we have to do if we want to not sit home in March over spring break.”

NU scored 24 points before Michigan’s first field goal — a two-handed dunk by Brent Petway at the 11:54 mark that made the score 24-4. The Cats forced seven turnovers and recorded five steals in that stretch.

Jenkins and Hachad keyed the run, energizing the team and the crowd.

With just under 14 minutes left in the first half, Jenkins knocked the ball away from swingman Ron Coleman. Hachad picked it up and raced down the court, maneuvered past a defender and converted a layup to make the score 14-2, forcing Michigan to call a timeout.

After getting the ball back after the timeout, Jenkins launched a high-arcing 3-pointer from the corner that hit nothing but net. He was fouled, and his free throw completed the four-point play gave NU an 18-2 lead.

The next possession, Jenkins’ alley-oop-turned-3-pointer left fans marveling at the Cats’ luck.

Hachad had another highlight in the second half, which made SportsCenter’s Top Ten. With three minutes left, Hachad scooped up a loose ball, ran down the court, faked a behind-the-back pass that froze Michigan center Graham Brown, then elevated for the layup to give the Cats a 67-44 lead.

“In the past couple of games, I figured out that you have to have some pleasure out there,” Hachad said. “You have to go out there and be a little more loose.”

Reach Anthony Tao at [email protected].