Men’s Basketball: Michigan meltdown

Matt Forman

East Lansing and Ann Arbor are located just 65 miles apart in Michigan. But Northwestern’s experiences in the two cities were worlds apart.

On Wednesday against Michigan State, NU forced 18 turnovers as junior forward Kevin Coble carried the Wildcats to an upset over the seventh-ranked Spartans. On Saturday against Michigan, the Cats forced just nine turnovers and lost the rebounding battle by 19, falling 68-59 at Crisler Arena.

“We can’t get out-rebounded by 20 and only force nine turnovers,” Coble said. “That’s really tough to overcome.”

Just days after breaking Michigan State’s 11-game winning streak in historic fashion, NU (10-7, 2-5 Big Ten) let Michigan end its three-game losing skid.

“If you lose, you had a letdown,” coach Bill Carmody said, denying his team came out flat. “If you win, you didn’t.”

The Cats tied the game just five minutes into the first half, but the Wolverines led the rest of the way. Michigan (14-6, 4-4) jumped out to an early 17-11 lead as junior forward DeShawn Sims scored the team’s first 11 points from the floor. While the score was close then, the damage was done. NU never got closer than four the rest of the game.

“The worst of the four-minute segments of the game was the first,” Coble said. “Sims had the first eight points of the game, and that’s unacceptable. That kills you, especially the way he was doing it.”

Despite starting the game in a matchup zone, Carmody was forced to switch to the 1-3-1 zone that proved problematic for opponents earlier in the week. But the zone was nothing new to the Wolverines – they run the same defensive scheme.

“They might have a unique perspective on it,” Coble said. “We never really got in sync and attacked with it, and that hurt us.”

Michigan attacked the 1-3-1 with dribble penetration and ball movement, registering 18 assists on 22 field goals. When the key was open, the Wolverines pounded the ball inside. When it wasn’t, they took advantage of the opening in the high post.

“We just didn’t have the energy on defense,” Coble said. “They were just quicker to the ball than we were. It hurt us.”

NU held Michigan to 9-of-27 shooting from behind the 3-point line, but the Wolverines corralled 13 offensive rebounds, turning missed shots into easy second-chance baskets.

Offensively, Coble scored a game-high 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting. Guards Craig Moore (4-of-13) and Michael Thompson (6-of-13) added 12 and 16 points, respectively. No other NU player scored more than two points.

In the last two games, Coble, Moore and Thompson have combined to score 111 of the team’s 129 points. Forward Ivan Peljusic led the remaining players with six points over that span.

While the big three scorers for NU tried to cut the lead down the stretch, shots didn’t fall. Michigan was 0-for-6 from the floor in the final 8:46 of the game but went 12-of-14 from the charity stripe to put the game out of reach.

After facing two tough road tests, six of the Cats’ next seven games will be played in the comfort of Welsh-Ryan Arena. A five-game stretch against ranked opponents will come to a close when NU welcomes Indiana on Wednesday. The Hoosiers are winless in six Big Ten games and are 5-13 overall.

“It helps a lot,” Coble said. “It’s just a different feeling coming home. You’re a little more comfortable, know what to expect. Hopefully we can reboot a little bit.”

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