The Wolverines trailed 14-5 at the midpoint of the first half.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — John Beilein made it clear where the credit should go after this victory.
“The whole press conference should be about our defense,” the Michigan coach said. “We’re up two at half — are you kidding me? We didn’t make shots, we didn’t make foul shots, but we held them, and that was the key.”
Charles Matthews scored 14 points, and the 24th-ranked Wolverines outlasted Northwestern 58-47 on Monday night. Michigan labored through an ugly first half but still led 21-19 after 20 minutes. The Wolverines ended up shooting just 42 percent from the field and 7 of 25 from 3-point range, but Northwestern couldn’t take advantage.
Scottie Lindsey scored 15 points for the Wildcats, but no other Northwestern player had more than nine.
Michigan was coming off an exciting 92-88 loss at Purdue on Thursday night, but this game wasn’t at all similar to that one. The Wolverines trailed 14-5 at the midpoint of the first half, and the Wildcats led 19-11 after a dunk by Lindsey with 7:06 remaining.
Then it was Northwestern (13-10, 4-6 Big Ten) that couldn’t score. The Wildcats were shut out for the rest of the half as Michigan (18-6, 7-4) chipped away.
“I thought that was a grinder of a Big Ten game,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “You hold them to 21, we needed to be up double figures at half, especially on the road, when you know they’re going to make adjustments.”
Moe Wagner scored five points during a 7-0 run in the second half that put Michigan up 48-38.
Wagner, Jordan Poole and Duncan Robinson finished with eight points each. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored 11 points for the Wolverines.
Michigan’s defense improved last season after the Wolverines hired Billy Donlon as an assistant coach. Donlon then left to join the Northwestern staff, but the positive trend has continued for Michigan.
“That was a big emphasis my first couple years here — shooting and scoring and just trying to score as much as the other team,” said Abdur-Rahkman said. “I think coaching changes changed the mindset a little bit, and it seems to be working.”
Michigan was 9 of 25 from the field in the first half and 3 of 15 from beyond the arc, but the Wolverines never let the game slip away.
“You can tell they’re locked in with their rotations, they’re in good spots. I think Moe is much improved as a post defender,” Collins said. “Normally for them, they don’t win a game 58-47. So it just shows that they’ve made a lot of strides on that end of the floor, and I was impressed with their defense tonight.”
Northwestern: The Wildcats shut down Michigan early, but Northwestern couldn’t afford to lose the turnover battle this badly. The Wildcats committed 16 to Michigan’s five. Northwestern also shot just 38 percent from the field.
Michigan: In addition to showing off their improved defense, the Wolverines also held serve at home once again. Michigan is 12-1 at home, with the only loss coming in the final seconds to Purdue.
Northwestern: The Wildcats play at Wisconsin on Thursday night.
Michigan: The Wolverines have their longest break in the schedule since late December. They don’t play again until Saturday, at home against Minnesota.