'He's a winner': Zavier Simpson helps Michigan pull out 2OT victory over Purdue
Ann Arbor — Purdue coach Matt Painter knew what Zavier Simpson was capable of ever since he watched him as a junior in high school.
Michigan coach Juwan Howard had witnessed Simpson’s abilities before he even returned to the college game and his alma mater.
So, when Simpson came through with clutch bucket after clutch bucket in crunch time to help No. 19 Michigan outlast Purdue in an 84-78 double-overtime victory at Crisler Center, neither of the two were surprised.
“I have one of the best point guards in college basketball,” Howard said. “We have one of the best leaders in college basketball, one of the toughest competitors in college basketball. He’s a kid that has been counted out so many times, but he has always figured it out and rises to occasion when needed.”
Simpson delivered when Michigan (11-4, 2-2 Big Ten) needed it the most on Thursday night, scoring 14 of his 22 points in the final minute of regulation and the two overtimes to help the Wolverines avoid a third straight setback in conference play.
Simpson added nine assists and finished 9-for-13 from the field, with five of those baskets either tying the game or giving Michigan the lead in the second half and extra sessions.
“He's just a winner,” Painter said. “He won in high school. He's won here. That's who he is.
“He embraces the moment. That guy has been in a lot of games, been in a lot of tight games, big games. He made some huge plays for them.”
That started in the final 90 seconds of regulation when Simpson countered a pair of go-ahead baskets by Purdue sophomore forward Trevion Williams, who hit a step-back 3-pointer to beat the shot clock and was awarded a basket via a goaltending call on Michigan, with two driving layups to send the game to overtime tied at 62.
After Williams scored six straight points in the first overtime to give Purdue (9-7, 2-3) a 68-66 lead with 1:00 to go, Simpson once again knifed his way to the rim and knotted it up to force another extra session.
Then in the second overtime, Simpson delivered the big blow. He drained his lone 3-pointer of the game during a 9-0 run that put Michigan in control and sealed the victory with two free throws in the final seconds.
“He (Simpson) makes it easy for everybody. He gets in the lane, he makes plays for others, he makes plays for himself like he did tonight,” said freshman wing Franz Wagner, who had 15 points and hit a dagger 3-pointer with 2:34 remaining in the second overtime.
“It was big time. That's what we need from him. His play on the court is one thing, but the biggest thing is that we have that leader in him. He likes that role and he really embraces it.”
While Simpson didn’t attempt a single shot over the first 18 minutes of the game, he said he wasn't looking to solely facilitate for others in the first half and he didn't feel like he needed to take over down the stretch.
His focus was simply on staying locked in and doing whatever he could to put Michigan in the best position possible.
"I trust the players I'm surrounded by. I trust them to be able to kick it out, knock it down, drive. Whatever they do, I trust for them to do that," said Simpson, who added Purdue was collapsing the lane every time he drove in the first half.
"That's just about making the right play, putting my pride aside and as you see, come out in overtime, second half and score more. Sometimes you've got to put yourself aside, be unselfish and come out and do the best you can to make the right play."
Senior center Jon Teske added 18 points and nine rebounds and sophomore guard David DeJulius chipped in 11 points and six assists for Michigan, which was without junior forward Isaiah Livers (groin injury) for the third straight game.
Simpson’s night helped offset a monster performance from Williams, a former Detroit Henry Ford Academy High standout who finished with 36 points and 20 rebounds. Freshman guard Isaiah Thompson scored 14 and sophomore guard Eric Hunter Jr. 10 for Purdue, which lost junior center Matt Haarms late in the first half due to a hip injury.
With Haarms out and Purdue unable to play two bigs on the floor at the same time, Howard opted to go small with roughly nine minutes left in the second half with junior guard Eli Brooks, Simpson, DeJulius, Wagner and Teske.
For an offense that struggled to space the floor over the first 30 minutes, the adjustment paid off and ended up being the lineup Howard rolled with for the rest of the game as Simpson and Williams duked it out.
“That's a great lineup for us,” DeJulius said. “You have three guards who can get downhill and create, and you've got Franz at the four, who is really not even a four. That's really a matchup problem for many teams.”
It proved to be for Purdue as the Wolverines erased a six-point second-half deficit, got critical stops at the end of regulation and overtime, and broke down the Boilermakers’ defense just enough with Simpson leading the way.
“We stayed connected and pushed through,” Wagner said. “It was a hard-fought game and I think it was really good to see that we came out on top in a game where we were down a couple times, we were up a couple times. It's really good to see that we stuck together even more and came out with an important win."