Ann Arbor — Caris LeVert wasn’t himself.
But he was healthy.
And for that, Michigan is plenty grateful.
“Caris being in there,” said Zak Irvin, “definitely helped us.”
LeVert played 11 minutes in Saturday’s 61-56 victory over No. 18 Purdue, all in the first half. He grabbed five rebounds, but missed his only two shots — a jumper and a free throw.
When the second half was about to start, coach John Beilein noticed Levert was “wobbly.”
He was on the bench the entire second half, as Michigan rallied lately against a Purdue team that thoroughly thumped it in early January in West Lafayette.
“You can’t cheat this game,” Beilein said. “There’s no designated hitter. There’s no huddle-up every 30 seconds. You cannot cheat this game.
“So we decided not to push it anymore.”
The fact LeVert got any minutes, though, is big moving forward, as he continues to get his stamina back, after logging just three practice hours since suffering the lower-left leg injury Dec. 30 at Illinois. He’s going to struggle for a bit getting up and down the court.
He’ll likely get more minutes Tuesday at Ohio State, and could be ready to rejoin the starting lineup Sunday against a Maryland team that Michigan beat last month, but is 22-4 and is a half-game out of first place in the Big Ten at 10-3.
Beilein has talked time and again during LeVert’s rehab about how he was making progress.
This, though, is real progress for a Michigan team that’s firmly in the NCAA Tournament discussion, albeit with several tough games remaining.
LeVert was Michigan’s leading scorer, at 17.6 points a game, when he went down with an injury.
He’s also Michigan’s best ball-handler, a role Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin have taken turns with — and struggling with — since he’s been gone.
“It’s always tough that first game when guys have been out,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said of LeVert. “This was probably the best thing for him for the next game.”