Michigan rallies to take down No. 18 Purdue
Ann Arbor — Oh, sure, they heard the whispers.
They weren't tough enough. They couldn't play a lick of defense. They couldn't win without the 3-pointers, these wilting Wolverines.
Well, take that.
Michigan posted as gritty and determined a performance as it had all season, and the end result was a mighty impressive, 61-56 victory over No. 18 Purdue before a large and tickled crowd at Crisler Center on Saturday afternoon.
The victory was huge for the Wolverines (19-7, 9-4 Big Ten), who face a grueling roster of opponents down the stretch — and who now have a nice margin for error in their bid to get back to the NCAA Tournament.
One more win likely gets it done, now that Michigan has signature wins over then-No. 3 Maryland and Purdue, to say nothing of Texas in nonconference play.
"It's really big," said coach John Beilein, talking a mile a minute, thrilled with his team's showing, especially down the stretch against a Purdue team that dominated the first meeting.
"Now we've gotta get more."
Michigan bounced back brilliantly from last week's awful showing at home, which included blowout losses to Indiana and Michigan State.
Purdue (20-6, 8-5) came to Crisler Center with similarly impressive credentials, not to mention giants in the paint, and were stuffed.
The Boilermakers didn't score for the final 3 minutes, 13 seconds, missing their final six shots — as the Wolverines got as tough as we've seen, finishing on an 11-0 scoring run.
Zak Irvin, nicknamed "Mr. Big Shot" by teammates, certainly hit the biggest of shots in this one, including three 3-pointers in the second half — he had four of Michigan's five 3-pointers on 20 attempts.
But his biggest shot wasn't a 3-pointer, it was a little jumper from the free-throw line with just more than a minute to play.
That shot gave Michigan a 57-56 lead, and it had the crowd pumping.
Those were two of Irvin's game-high 22 points.
"I was really just trying to give it to Ricky (Doyle) and Ricky gave it back to me," Irvin said. "I was able to get to the elbow and knock it down.
"I think everyone's really counted us out. We just try to come out here and play with a chip on our shoulder. I think we definitely had a chip on our shoulder this afternoon because of the two tough home losses."
Irvin scored 16 after halftime, and was always going to be the go-to guy for Michigan.
Beilein liked the matchup against freshman Caleb Swanigan.
Purdue missed its four shots after the Irvin jumper, and with 4 seconds left the victory assured, Irvin stood near the visitor's basket and waved his arms wildly at the crowd, which loved every second.
"We know that he likes to take and make big shots," Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said.
Michigan can take a lot of shots, but it hasn't been making a lot of shots lately — as the defensive talent has ramped up lately in Big Ten play. But in previous games when Michigan wasn't making shots, it would lead to slumps on defense — particularly last week in embarrassments against Indiana and Michigan State.
Not this time. The defense never lost the intensity, and Michigan limited Purdue to 39.6 percent from the field — quite the low number, given that so many of the Boilermakers' shots are from close range.
Michigan outscored Purdue in the paint, 24-20, and won the rebounding battle, 39-35. On Jan. 7, Purdue won the paint by 24 points and the rebounds by eight. Five of Saturday's rebounds were by Caris LeVert, who returned after an 11-game absence with a lower-left leg injury. He played 11 minutes in the opening half, none in the second as he continues to try and get in game shape.
"They had a nose for the ball," Purdue coach Matt Painter said of Michigan. "Their hustle really paid off for them. Gotta give them credit."
Derrick Walton Jr., coming off a great game against Minnesota, was way off his game, missing open look after open look — he was 1-for-10 shooting, in all.
But that one, as his makes tend to be, was a big one. He didn't score a single point until there was just 2:06 left in the game — when he drove the lane and made a hard layup, drawing a foul.
He missed that free throw to keep Michigan's deficit at one, but was 4-for-4 on free throws down the stretch as the Wolverines iced it.
Abdur-Rahkman had nine points, and Walton had seven rebounds.
Michigan limited Swanigan to 14 points, Isaac Haas 11 and A.J. Hammons to 10 on 4-for-11 shooting.
"Our huddle was just all about buckling down," Walton said. "The last four minutes for each and every game is kind of what decides it.
"You know what's crazy ... at the beginning of the year, we talked about how much potential this team has defensively, and tonight was a night where we finally put it all together."
It's easy to overlook, given the furious final three minutes.
But the first-half play was just as pivotal for Michigan, which trailed by 10 early — and the game easily could have gotten away from the Wolverines, given Duncan Robinson and Mark Donnal were on the bench much of the half with early foul trouble.
Michigan, though, held strong, ramped up the defense — and just before half, Irvin, struggling with his shot, made a pair of free throws.
He said afterward that gave him the confidence to fire away in the second half. He shot a lot and made a lot, and the defense, can you believe it, did the rest.
"We outrebounded Purdue. Look at that! That may be the only time you'll ever see that stat. We got it done somehow. Chad Carr, I think, was batting the ball around to us as a little angel somewhere," said Beilein, who, for the first time in his career, coached wearing a t-shirt — for the ChadTough Foundation, in memory of Chad Carr. "For our team to win a gritty, not-pretty performance is big for our growth.
"I think we grew up a lot as a team. Knowing games are going to be tough, you're going to have to be tougher."