INDIANAPOLIS — Through two games of the Big Ten Tournament, the Michigan basketball team had thrown fatigue, personnel gaps and a bad finish to the regular season out the window, and had instead ridden last-second heroics to the tournament’s semifinals.
But on Saturday, reality returned to the Wolverines.
Dominated in the post and unable to counter offensively, Michigan put its NCAA Tournament bid in jeopardy with a 76-59 loss to No. 13 Purdue. The result advanced the Boilermakers (12-6 Big Ten, 26-7 overall) into Sunday’s championship, while the Wolverines (10-8, 22-12) are left waiting for Selection Sunday to decide their fate.
Here are our immediate reactions from today’s action in Indianapolis.
MVP: A.J. Hammons. Purdue’s first team All-Big Ten star was as good as advertised Saturday. The 7-foot center dominated both ends of the glass, scoring 15 points in the first half and finishing with a game-high 27 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. On both ends of the court, Hammons could do whatever he wanted to down low, putting Michigan’s four big men in foul trouble and holding them to a combined 10 points and four rebounds.
It was over when… In some ways, Michigan was lucky to be down just eight points at halftime. The Boilermakers had dominated in the post, the Wolverines weren’t making threes and it looked like a game was teetering on a blowout. And right on cue, it took less than two minutes for Purdue to push its lead to 16 in the second half. Riding’s mismatches on Hammons and shooting struggles for Michigan, the Boilermakers put it away early.
Though junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. sparked a mini comeback midway through the second half, the Wolverines never pulled to within closer than six points.
Key Stat: It was almost a given that Purdue would dominate in the paint against Michigan, but the Wolverines lost in large part because their alleged strength — perimeter shooting — collapsed to the tune of 6-of-24 3-point shooting. Michigan just couldn’t knock down perimeter shots and managed just .87 points per possession of offense in their third game in as manydays..
Unsung hero: Derrick Walton Jr. . For the second game in a row, the junior guard was the team’s vocal leader and top defender. And this time, he brought some scoring with him. Walton led the team with 14 points, while chipping in six rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Room for improvement: Michigan will win few games when it allows opponent’s big men to dominate the way Hammons did. The All-Big Ten First Team big man is far from the first post player to put up monstrous numbers on the Wolverines, but he had a dominant performance on Saturday.