Michigan comes up short at Purdue
West Lafayette, Ind. — It was a big test.
OK, a really big test, this monstrous Purdue team.
And Michigan, again playing without Caris LeVert, probably hung on for as long is it could with Purdue and its band of giants, but in the end, the Wolverines fell, 87-70, to the No. 20-ranked Boilermakers at a filled-to-the-rafters Mackey Arena on Thursday night.
The loss ended Michigan's six-game winning streak, and was its first since a Dec. 8 shellacking at SMU.
In fact, all four of Michigan's losses have come against teams with a massive size advantage — but none was bigger than Purdue, with its two 7-footers, and even more length beyond them.
"Post defense is something you try to work at, and then you play the best in the country at post offense," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "And it's an eye opener."
That's for sure.
At a deafening Mackey Arena, the Wolverines (12-4, 2-1 Big Ten) didn't necessarily go quietly, but it always seemed like they were eventually going to go away.
Every time they made a run, Purdue answered, as Michigan just couldn't get nearly enough stops on defense, especially in the second half.
Michigan did cut the deficit to six with 5:20 remaining when Zak Irvin made three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt. But Dakota Mathias answered with a 3-pointer 12 seconds later, and the Boilermakers (14-2, 2-1) finally took over from there, for good, scoring the next nine points to stretch this one beyond reach.
One of Purdue's 7-footers, A.J. Hammons, was out of this world Thursday, and he highlighted that run with a dunk, followed by a 3-pointer.
"They made it tough for us," Duncan Robinson said.
About the only Michigan man who didn't find it tough was Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, again starting in place of LeVert, who missed a second consecutive game with a lower-leg injury.
Abdur-Rahkman was aggressive all night, but especially in the second half, as he finished with a career-high 25 points. His previous career high was 18, set last season against Michigan State in another game LeVert missed to injury.
"I tried to just go out there and play our game as a team," Abdur-Rahkman said. "I'm usually left open to try to make knockdown shots."
Abdur-Rahkman scored 10 of Michigan's 28 in the first half, when the Wolverines shot just 32.3 percent.
Still, Michigan's defense managed to keep it in the game early, and the Wolverines even led for a significant stretch — despite early foul trouble from all four big men, each of whom picked up an early whistle — before the Boilermakers closed the half on a 14-5 run to lead by seven.
"The first half, I was so proud of the way our guys played defensively. We were all over the place," Beilein said. "We made it tough for them.
"The second half, we were just not as good defensively.
"We were getting tough baskets, they were getting easy baskets. We answered with a tough, they were getting an easy. Pretty soon, right, you're not gonna make the tough, they're gonna make the easy."
Michigan shot 43.3 percent in the second half, but the Wolverines couldn't get a stop. And when they did, they didn't take advantage on their end.
Purdue only missed consecutive shots once in the second half, and shot 76.2 percent (16-for-21) after halftime in making amends for a huge blown lead in its last game, a loss to Iowa at home.
"Anytime you struggle and play poorly like we did (against Iowa), you want to get that bad taste out of your mouth," said Purdue coach Matt Painter, whose team started the game 3-for-15 in shooting, before making 27 of its final 39 shots. "Tonight we were able to bounce back from that. It's really important."
Painter stated the obvious: It started with defense, and he just so happens to have the best defense — inside and outside — in the Big Ten, even if only one other team, Vermont of all teams, has scored more against Purdue this season than Michigan's 70.
On Thursday, that defense all but took Irvin (2-for-10) and Derrick Walton Jr. (3-for-9) out of the equation, and Michigan simply couldn't have that, not with LeVert again a scratch after experiencing pain in shoot-around.
That's the first time they've had that type of (defensive) attention," Beilein said. "It's good from them. They can learn a lot from it."
And Michigan will have to learn quickly, with No. 3 Maryland up next, Tuesday at Crisler Center, followed by No. 19 Iowa on the road Jan. 17.
Walton finished with 12 points, and Duncan Robinson had 10. In three Big Ten games, Robinson has struggled to find the good looks from 3-point range he got in nonconference season. He only got off five 3-pointers, making two of them, but missed one contested, rushed shot as badly as you'll see.
Hammons led Purdue with 17 points and four blocks, and Rapheal Davis added 16 points and six assists. Vince Edwards had 11 points and Johnny Hill 10.
Purdue's big men racked up seven blocks in all and held a 42-18 advantage on points in the paint.
Still, Mark Donnal, coming off the two best games of his Michigan career, held his own in his biggest test yet, with seven points (including two 3-pointers) and five rebounds. D.J. Wilson, and not Ricky Doyle, was the first big off the bench.
That part of Michigan's game, clearly, remains very much a work in progress. As Purdue showed, there's a whole lot of work to do.
"Not good to lose," said Beilein, "but it's a great teaching tool."
The first big test, after all, didn't go so well.