Men’s Basketball: Re-broken hearts

Matt Forman

Both Northwestern and Michigan played like they were coming off back-to-back losses. Both teams played like they were fighting for their conference lives.

Both the Wildcats and Wolverines wanted the game. Michigan got it.

“I thought we had to find a way to win somehow,” coach Bill Carmody said. “It’s a game you have to win. They found a way to do it.”

In a game that went back and forth and went into overtime, the only player NU did not have an answer for was sophomore guard Manny Harris. Harris scored eight of his game-high 26 points in the extra session, leading Michigan to a 70-67 win at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Sunday.

“He’s one of the better players in the league,” Carmody said of Harris. “He’s fast, athletic, covers a lot of ground. He took it on himself.”

Coming off a heart-wrenching loss to Illinois just three days earlier, NU showed no signs of a hangover. Fueled by 13 first-half points on 5-of-5 shooting from freshman forward John Shurna, the Cats (13-10, 4-8 Big Ten) jumped out to an early lead and held a 27-25 advantage going into halftime.

“Certainly it’s tough to come back, but our guys played hard” Carmody said, referring to the Cats’ one-point loss to Illinois.

NU forced 10 turnovers in the opening period and converted them into 12 points. The Cats notched 21 points off turnovers in the game. Shurna pulled down six offensive rebounds in the game, helping NU score 20-second chance points.

But the game wasn’t decided in the opening 20 minutes.

Neither team held more than a five-point lead in the second half.

Still, the Cats held a small advantage for the majority of the second period. Michigan (16-10, 6-7) tied the game with 3:08 remaining in the game, as it went on a 7-0 run.

“We were struggling to get to an overtime,” Coble said. “And it really shouldn’t have been like that.”

Following the Wolverines’ run, capped by Harris’ step-back jumper with 1:44 remaining, they led 56-51. Junior forward Kevin Coble answered, however, by hitting Shurna for a layup off a backdoor cut to trim the lead to three.

After forcing a turnover, NU looked to settle for a quick two-point attempt and put Michigan on the free throw line. Instead, Coble double-pumped and hit an off-balance 3-pointer to tie the game at 56. Michigan was not able to get off a shot at the end of regulation, as junior Jeremy Nash stripped Stu Douglass and forced overtime.

“It seemed like it was just Harris and Coble there in the end,” Carmody said.

The opening tip of overtime went out of bounds, and the referees ruled that the ball went off freshman Kyle Rowley’s hands. Michigan forward DeShawn Sims threw down an emphatic dunk 30 seconds later to give the Wolverines all the momentum they needed in the final five minutes.

Down by four in overtime with just under one minute remaining, Coble was fouled as he attempted to shoot a 3-pointer from the same spot. He nailed each of the attempts to bring the game within one.

After trading fouls and free throws for the next 45 seconds, the Cats trailed 68-65 with 14.4 seconds remaining in the game. Sophomore Michael Thompson drove the length of the floor and set a screen for senior Craig Moore, whose 3-point attempt from the right wing clanged off the rim. That was the last good chance NU had to tie the game.

“When a game goes into overtime, every play is important on both sides,” Carmody said. “Everything is key in a close game.”

The little things – box outs, free throws, rebounds, turnovers and steals – have piled up for the Cats, who have come up short in the last three Big Ten contests. Those losses have come by a combined nine points.

“It’s really frustrating, it’s really hard,” Coble said. “You start looking back and adding up all the points… We’re five baskets away from being in the upper part of the conference. And that’s tough for us to handle.”

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