Shooting droughts don’t derail Michigan victory

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — When things went south for Michigan, they rarely went back north.

The Wolverines have struggled all season to bounce back from opponents’ scoring runs. When the bleeding started, Michigan usually bled out.

That changed Saturday, as Michigan withstood two field-goal droughts of more than six minutes, one in each half, to beat No. 18 Purdue, 61-56, at Crisler Center.

“We keep growing each day, each game, we learn from something new,” Zak Irvin said. “It was huge for us to be able to withstand the runs they were making.

“We just gotta remember that when times get tough and shots aren’t falling.”

Late in the first half, Michigan went 6 minutes, 22 seconds between field goals, as Purdue’s lead ballooned to 10.

Late in the second half, Michigan went 5:49 between field goals, as Purdue’s lead reached six.

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Both times it was Irvin ending the skid, with a jumper in the first half, and a 3-pointer in the second half.

“We weren’t making shots. We gritted it out,” Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. “That’s what makes it special.”

Purdue missed its last four shots of the first half, three on one possession.

Purdue then missed its final six shots of the game, as Michigan scored the upset victory — and picked up its second signature victory in Big Ten play.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said the end of the first half was especially disappointing. The Boilermakers felt they should have been leading by more than four.

“No question,” Painter said. “We felt like we should’ve been up by 10 at half.”

And nobody would’ve been surprised if the Boilermakers had been, given how the Wolverines have wilted time and again against the elite opponents this season.

Oh, shoot!

Derrick Walton Jr. didn’t have his best game, but his coach wasn’t about to lose faith.

“Yeah, there was a point in the game where some people on my bench were saying, ‘Get him out of there,’ ” coach John Beilein said. “The dude scored 26 points the other night (at Minnesota). I’m not taking him out. We rode him all the way down.”

And Beilein’s faith was rewarded when, with just over two minutes to go, Walton made a tough drive to the basket and made the shot, despite getting fouled.

Those were his first points of the game, but they were big ones. He was 1-for-10 shooting, missing several open looks, especially 3-pointers.

Beilein has continued to harp on Walton to shoot more, pass less, even when he’s missing.

“I called him over after he missed three open shots. ‘Hit the shots, dammit!’ ” Beilein said, with a smile. “You’ve just gotta be real with him.

“He’s an elite shooter and he won’t shoot sometimes. I want him to shoot.”

Thinking March

Michigan’s NCAA Tournament resume got a huge boost with the win over Purdue.

That gives the Wolverines two big wins in Big Ten play — against then-No. 3 Maryland and No. 18 Purdue. The next Big Ten win will be their 10th, and that should be enough for an NCAA Tournament spot.

An 11th would guarantee it, and now seems pretty probable, even though the final five games are mostly toughies.

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“I’d be lying to you if I said it’s not (on my mind),” Walton said of boosting the NCAA Tournament resume. “Enjoy it for the rest of the night, and you can get ready to prepare for the next game.”

Michigan visits Ohio State and Maryland next week, then gets Northwestern at home, Wisconsin on the road and Iowa at home. Only the Northwestern game looks like a sure-fire win, so that’s why the Purdue win is so huge — it provides some margin for error for Michigan, which doesn’t have a signature loss, or a loss to a bad team.

Beilein acknowledged the Purdue win helps his team’s case, but also pointed out Michigan has four road wins in the Big Ten, though one was on a neutral court.

Slam dunks

Michigan held its alumni weekend, and welcomed back more than 200 alums — even honoring some of the program’s championship teams during breaks in the game.

Combined with the ChadTough Foundation T-shirts honoring Chad Carr, and the win, it was a good Saturday.

“That was huge,” Beilein said.

... Beilein has been thrilled with Abdur-Rahkman’s development, particularly his toughness — on offense, when he drives to the basket against much bigger guys, and especially on defense.

“I used to accuse him of playing in a tuxedo,” Beilein said. “He wasn’t playing hard and gritty.”

Abdur-Rahkman had three of Michigan’s five steals.

... For the second time in three games, Duncan Robinson didn’t make a 3-pointer. He’s made just six in last five games, four coming against Minnesota.

... On Valentine’s Day weekend, there was a surprise proposal between fans at midcourt ... and she said “yes”!