EVANSTON, Ill. — Michigan basketball has been dealt some tough breaks in the 2022-23 season.
But it seemingly got a break of its own Thursday evening against Northwestern — which had to postpone two games due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the team — on its fifth game in 11 nights.
The Wolverines didn't miss their chance to strike.
After trailing by three early in the second half of a relatively close game U-M ripped off a 22-4 run in just more than seven minutes of game time to pull away and roll to a 68-51 victory at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
"Our backs are against the wall and we knew what we had to do," Joey Baker said. "It was kind of desperation time, I guess. We needed a win no matter what here. So we prepared hard and we went out there and executed."
It's Michigan's first true road win since Dec. 9 at Minnesota — a span of 57 days.
It's U-M's first Quad I victory of the season — the Wolverines were previously 0-9.
And it very well might have kept the Wolverines' lingering hope of an NCAA tournament berth alive.
"We've been competing throughout the year," coach Juwan Howard said. "We haven't at times gotten the wins we've worked so hard to get. Some of the losses we've had have been one possession, two possessions. There's been many of those.
"But it's nice to see our guys know there's a lot more season that can be played, so let's keep grinding."
Hunter Dickinson led the way with 19 points, Kobe Bufkin added 15 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists — his first career double-double — Baker tied his Michigan career-high with 14 points and Terrance Williams II had seven points with 10 rebounds.
"Kobe has one of the toughest jobs on our team by Jaelin (Llewellyn) being out with an injury," Juwan Howard said. "He has to be the point guard, has to score for us also has to defend for us — he has a big task but he's always stepped up to the plate.
"Tonight, his overall balance of 15 points, 12 rebounds, three being on the offensive glass, then to also have eight assists and one turnover. Wow. That's a big, big game. We needed it and he stepped up."
Boo Buie led Northwestern with 23 points and eight assists and Chase Audige scored 10; the guard duo combined to shoot 13-for-35.
Bench brings the juice
Both teams started the night cold. Michigan missed its first six attempts from the floor before Jett Howard canned a 3-pointer from the wing. Northwestern made just one of its first five shots, a Buie 3-pointer that came after Howard's.
Nearly nine minutes into the game, U-M led, 10-8, after Dickinson hit consecutive buckets in the paint; he'd missed his first four attempts as the Wolverines made only two of their first 12 attempts. After a Buie long ball gave the Wildcats a brief lead, Baker hit a deep 3-pointer of his own to get U-M back and start a stretch of strong play from the bench.
Tarris Reed Jr. hit both of his free throws with 10:27 in the half, then Baker got an offensive rebound which led to a trip to the free-throw line for Jace Howard, who made 1 of 3 attempts.
Baker then made a slashing layup to give Michigan its largest lead of the half, 18-13, with the bench scoring eight of those points. It was just the start for what became a career night for Baker.
Michigan was on a 6-0 run early in the second half when he hit a 3-pointer plus the foul to give Michigan a seven point lead. He added a jumper less than a minute later and another long ball to finish 3-for-4 from behind the arc on the night.
"Joey has been playing hard all season long," Juwan Howard said. "Tonight he had it going. ... Second half he came out, drove the ball also took shots that were open for him.
The bench finished with 17 total points — its most since it had 19 against Maryland on Jan. 1.
Success on the boards
In the same way the bench production was a welcomed sight, so was Michigan's success on the glass.
The Wolverines got off to a 24-19 rebounding edge in the first half which included an 11-7 advantage in offensive rebounds. But U-M didn't capitalize on its extra opportunities, scoring just four second-chance points on 11 tries in the first half.
Although Michigan grabbed just three offensive rebounds in the second half, it converted at a much higher rate for more second-chance points. In total, Michigan won the rebounding battle, 41-33.
The main man on the glass was Bufkin. The sophomore guard grabbed 10 rebounds in the first half of the game and finished with a career-high 12.
"It was the game plan," Bufkin said. "Coach Howard emphasized crashing the offensive glass, the ball just happened to bounce my way and I was able to grab them."
Williams' 10-rebound performance was just his second time with double digits in that category since Dec. 21.
Dickinson said after Michigan's close loss to Purdue, it's defensive issues, not offensive, that are preventing the team from winning the tight games.
On Thursday, the game was never close in the final 15 minutes because of the Wolverines' defense.
The Wildcats shot just 38% from the floor on the night and 16% on 3-pointers. All shooters not named Buie were 0-for-13 on long balls. The Wildcats were taking contested shots all night long, scoring just 15 points outside of the paint.
"Defense was very solid," Juwan Howard said. "Those shots they took were contested, that was a big key for us, only a few shots were wide open, and we'll clean that part up."
Next up: Buckeyes
Matchup: Michigan (12-10, 6-5 Big Ten) vs. Ohio State (11-11, 3-8).
Tipoff: 1 p.m. Sunday; Crisler Center, Ann Arbor.
TV/radio: ESPN2; WWJ-AM (950), WTKA-AM (1050).
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball gets statement win in 68-51 rout of Northwestern