West Lafayette, Ind. — Michigan’s late-season surge continued Saturday.
And once again, it was fueled by its defense.
The Wolverines turned in another sound effort to reel off their fifth straight win and climb further up the Big Ten standings with a 71-63 triumph over Purdue at Mackey Arena.
“I think we're just connected,” said freshman wing Franz Wagner, who posted a career-high 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting. “I think we don't allow teams to go on runs and I think that's especially important when you're playing on the road with the crowd. When the crowd gets into it and people go on runs, that's really hard to stop.
“I think staying solid on defense, boxing out and getting the rebound, that's when we're good and that's when we can run and play to our advantage on the offensive end. I think we've played good on defense these last couple weeks.”
As a result, it led to another familiar outcome. The Wolverines (18-9, 9-7 Big Ten) used a 15-4 run to build a 15-point halftime cushion and led comfortably throughout much of the second half despite some rough shooting.
It was the sixth time in the last seven games Michigan held its opponent to 65 points or less. During that same span, only two foes shot better than 40 percent from the field.
The return of junior forward Isaiah Livers also helped. After missing Wednesday’s win at Rutgers with a right ankle injury, Livers was back in the starting lineup and finished with 19 points. He made eight free throws in the final 1:24 to seal Michigan’s first win at Mackey Arena since 2014.
Sophomore forward Trevion Williams, a former Detroit Henry Ford Academy standout, had 18 points on 21 shots and 10 rebounds for Purdue (14-14, 7-10), which shot 39.7 percent (25-for-63) from the field and dropped its fourth straight game.
The Boilermakers outscored the Wolverines and shot better than 50 percent in the second half, but they could never recover after they were held to 21 points on 28.1 percent shooting (9-for-32) in the first half.
"We take pride in getting stops," said senior center Jon Teske, who had 11 points. "We did a good job rebounding and holding them to one shot. That's what you need to do against a Purdue team like this."
Even though Michigan’s offense wasn’t exactly clicking after halftime, Purdue struggled to string together baskets against the Wolverines and couldn't cut the deficit to single digits until the final minute.
When Purdue cut it to 37-27 on a layup by senior guard Jahaad Proctor at the 16:56 mark, Livers countered by knifing his way to the basket.
When sophomore guard Sasha Stefanovic (13 points) drained a 3-pointer to pull within 44-33, Michigan swatted the threat aside with a pair of baskets by Wagner to extend the lead to 49-34 with 8:01 to go.
When a jumper by sophomore guard Eric Hunter Jr. trim Michigan’s lead back down to 11, sophomore guard David DeJulius soared for an offensive tip-in and Wagner followed with a bucket to make it 57-42 at the 3:39 mark.
Even with junior guard Eli Brooks sitting out most of the second half after a collision, senior guard Zavier Simpson shooting 0-for-10 from the field and the Wolverines having a few hiccups with missed free throws and turnovers down the stretch, the Boilermakers never really made it close.
The closest Purdue got was 58-50 with 1:24 remaining before the Wolverines sealed it at the free-throw line. With the win, they moved into seventh in the conference standings and sit a game back of third place with four regular-season contests remaining.
“We have to do a better job of dealing with adversity. We have those stretches and those lulls that really hurt us,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “When you really look back at this game, the last four minutes of the first half ends up being the difference of the game and we never got that back.
“I thought at the start of the second half they (Michigan) just missed. They didn't play that good and they can play a lot better than that…It was one of those games that was there for us and we just had to play better. We didn't.”
Purdue opened 4-for-19 from the field and struggled to finish around the rim, a trend that continued throughout the day. Michigan started 4-for-16 and missed several clean looks from 3-point range, another trend that continued as the Wolverines finished 6-for-25 from beyond the arc.
The difference was Michigan’s open shots eventually started to drop. Livers capped a 9-0 run with a layup to give the Wolverines a 19-11 lead with 7:44 left in the first half.
Michigan’s defense, though, never let up and continued to make life difficult for Purdue until its offense got into a groove.
The Wolverines used better ball movement to close the half on a 15-4 run and take control. The flurry started with Michigan making 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions — Wagner, Teske and Wagner — after starting 3-for-14 from deep.
Wagner and Teske each threw down a dunk in the closing minute as Michigan rolled into halftime with a 36-21 lead and on its way to its fifth straight win away from Crisler Center.
"I think it's just part of the process,” Wagner said of Michigan’s recent stretch of road success. “During the course of the season, you're going to have some highs and you're going to have some lows. We're doing a better job now of staying connected, especially on the road.”