Three days after losing on the road by a score of 66-64, Michigan went back on the road and flipped the script. This time it was Michigan that held on despite a desperation three point attempt to beat Purdue by an identical final tally of 66-64. Road games in college basketball boil down to mental toughness and composure, something that Michigan lacked to start its previous two road games, and the Wolverines demonstrated both characteristics today. Michigan executed on both ends of the floor at the start of the first and second half (opening 15-4 and 11-3 respectively) and managed to weather Purdue’s inevitable runs, even falling behind and bouncing back, before holding on against the Boilermakers last gasp effort.
I wrote in the preview that this wasn’t a typical Purdue defense and Michigan’s offense was able to exploit that fact. The Wolverines mustered 1.11 points per possession, their second best output in conference play, and shot the ball extremely well: 58% on twos and 43% on threes for a 60% effective field goal percentage. That was Michigan’s best eFG% shooting performance since mid-December but the shot distribution was most noteworthy. U-M attempted just 28% of its field goals from three point range, well below its Big Ten average of 44.1%. The Wolverines also continued to be more aggressive attacking the offensive glass, rebounding 30.4% of their missed shots en route to 13 second chance points. The Achilles’ heel of the Michigan offense was uncharacteristic for this team: turnovers. The Wolverines coughed the ball up on 20.2% of their possessions and that seemed to allow Purdue to hang around – especially in the first half.
Michigan’s defense was far from perfect due to its inability to contain Lewis Jackson on the pick-and-roll. Jackson sliced his way into the lane for 17 points on eight shots along with eight assists and was the catalyst for a Boilermaker offense that scored 1.09 points per possession. Purdue shot the ball fairly well, 54% on twos and 35% on threes for a 52.9% effective field goal percentage, but Michigan’s defense did a great job on the defensive glass. The Wolverines secured 76.7% of Purdue’s misses and allowed just two second chance points on the night. It felt like Michigan did a great job of forcing turnovers at times but the Boilermakers coughed it up on only 15% of their possessions.
Purdue’s 17-3 second half run was spearheaded by a Boilermaker lineup with Robbie Hummel at the five position. Michigan went with Evan Smotrycz to counter the look and the defense fell apart. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Beilein left Smotrycz in the game for too long but I am more puzzled that Painter went back to Carroll rather than forcing Morgan to try to guard Hummel on the perimeter. This was the second conference game, Northwestern with John Shurna was the first, where Michigan has struggled to defend a small lineup with a five man that is a great three point threat. Smotrycz has proven himself as a shooting five man offensively but until he can guard players like Hummel or Shurna, he’s a defensive liability in these situations.
Four of Michigan’s last five games have been decided by two points or less and the Wolverines are 3-1 in those one possession games. The second to last Purdue possession was eerily similar to the end of the Michigan State game as Michigan’s defense defended to the bitter end, surrendered an offensive rebound, then buckled down one more time. Another parallel to that Michigan State game was the fact that the Wolverines allowed Purdue to come all the way back and take the lead but answered the blow, on the road this time. Michigan is developing the mental toughness required to win these sort of games and that should prove invaluable over the final two months of the season.
This was a huge rebound win for Michigan. The Wolverines shake the road win stigma off their backs, avoid a losing streak and picked up a win in a venue where they hadn’t won since 2003. Michigan is still (alone by a half game, for now) at the top of the Big Ten standings. Next up is a trip to Columbus to face the Ohio State Buckeyes. The game in Columbus, where Ohio State has won three Big Ten games by an average margin of 27 points, is the toughest remaining on Michigan’s schedule but the opportunity is golden. An upset would establish Michigan as a legitimate conference championship contender.
- Jordan Morgan: Morgan was the best big man on the floor and the difference in this game for Michigan. When he’s fighting for offensive rebounds, cutting hard, setting good screens and getting up and down the floor he’s a game changer in Michigan’s offense by providing easy points. What I notice about Morgan is that now he’s picking up fouls being too aggressive for offensive rebounds rather than silly fouls away from the basket – a welcome shift. He’s battling, playing tough and finishing around the hoop (5-of-7 today) even if he still misses some you feel that he should make. He had two assists and three turnovers but he was passed into most of the turnovers (or fouled) and the two assists were great plays from a tricky situation.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway hit some huge shots on the night. His four turnovers were frustrating but, for the most part, they were a product of attacking the basket. He was 8-of-15 (2-6 3pt) from the field for 19 points and played the entire 40 minutes. In the second half he looked as focused and involved mentally as he has in quite some time and Michigan managed to get him in a lot of situations curling or slashing toward the basket. 13 second half points on 5-of-9 (2-3 3pt) shooting and the clinching rebound are at the very least inklings of the big second half player that we saw last season.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass played a great game, one of the best of his career, and seemed to be a calming force for Michigan’s offense. He had a couple of crafty takes to the basket early and hit two shots late – a corner three and a inbound layup – that regained the Michigan lead. He finished the game 5-of-8 (2-3 3pt) for 12 points, five rebounds, three assists, one turnover and two steals. Douglass did a great job on Ryne Smith, who was 3-of-8 from three but had the makes against other defenders, and was effective on Lewis Jackson for stretches.
- Zack Novak: It seems like every game there’s one or two plays that define Zack Novak. That play tonight was Novak setting a screen in the first half and knocking down the Purdue defender before popping out to hit a three. Novak had 5 points on 2-of-4 (1-1 3pt) shooting with eight rebounds, three assists and no turnovers on the night. His biggest play of the night was his assist to Morgan for the game winning dunk, a play that was the product of a Michigan adjustment to use Novak as the screener on the high pick-and-roll.
- Trey Burke: Jackson was going to be a tough match-up for Burke and he struggled more than we’ve seen in a while. Burke was 3-of-10 (0-2 3pt) from the field but it should come as no surprise that he had two field goals and two assists in the final seven minutes of play – Burke wants the ball in the clutch. He had six assists for the game and did seem to make some critical adjustments late.
- Evan Smotrycz: Good or bad, Smotrycz has the uncanny knack for being involved in seemingly every play while he’s on the court. In 15 minutes he scored 10 points, made three of five shots, attempted four free throws, grabbed two rebounds, had one turnover and fouled twice. He was great on the offensive end of the floor but perhaps even worse defensively. Purdue scored 34 of its 64 points during the 15 minutes that Smotrycz was on the floor and Michigan was outscored by 17 points. Plus/minus is a relatively flawed metric but Purdue’s big run came with Smotrycz on the floor and Evan was at fault on a number of big Purdue baskets.
- Matt Vogrich: Another game when Vogrich’s primary contribution was a strong take to the basket. It’s nice to see with his three point shot struggling but it would be nice to see him heat up from three point range.
- Carlton Brundidge: Brundidge got some first half playing time but didn’t do a lot. He got stuck on a drive for a jump ball and didn’t make much a positive effect defensively. Michigan needs options off the bench but Brundidge still appears to be a work in progress.
- Eso Akunne: Akunne also checked in during the first half and was in over his head against Lewis Jackson, he injured his foot and will get X-rays tomorrow back in Ann Arbor.