Michigan relishing third crack at Purdue on MSG stage

James X Hawkins

New York — Michigan sophomore guard Zavier Simpson didn’t hesitate.

Fresh off a win over rival Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, Simpson was asked about the possibility of meeting Purdue for a third time this season.

“I wouldn’t mind that,” Simpson said. “Hopefully whoever we play we’ll try to get the best of them.”

Simpson and the Wolverines will get their wish Sunday at Madison Square Garden after No. 3 Purdue knocked off No. 7 Penn State to advance to the championship game — where more than a tournament title will be at stake.

The Wolverines will be out for revenge after the Boilermakers swept the regular-season series and handed them two gut-wrenching losses by a combined five points.

Purdue won the first meeting, 70-69, on Jan. 9 in Ann Arbor after a lengthy replay review led to a crucial change of possession with 6.2 seconds remaining and a tiebreaking free throw by Isaac Haas with 4.8 ticks left.

Then in the rematch in West Lafayette on Jan. 25, Purdue prevailed, 92-88, in a shootout that went down to the wire before a pair of critical turnovers proved to be Michigan’s undoing. The loss also effectively dashed any hope Michigan had at placing first in the Big Ten title race.

While beating any team twice in a season — let alone three times — is a challenge, Purdue senior guard Dakota Mathias said it’s going to come down to defense to make it happen.

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“They run a good system with a lot of counters, a lot of options,” Mathias said. “Moe Wagner is one of the best players in our league. They just have just a lot of different options.

“Just staying tight on some of their action, being disciplined on defense is going to be huge for us tomorrow.”

Purdue coach Matt Painter took it another step further and said if the Boilermakers are going to prevent Michigan from becoming the third team to repeat as Big Ten tournament champions, it’ll be imperative that they rebound and execute better than they did in their past two games against Rutgers and Penn State.

“I think their team’s consistently getting better on the defensive end and really played hard defensively, so we know it’s going to be tough to go against them,” Painter said of Michigan. “We’ve had a couple games where we were fortunate because we struggled to stop Michigan at our place, but we were able to outscore them. Then we get a break and it came at their place. They go to the monitor and we get the ball back. We’re able to go to the free-throw line after we got fouled.

“So, we definitely got a break…That’s part of it. If you don’t like having something go against you or something like that happen, try your best not to be in those situations.”

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While Michigan should be highly motivated heading into Sunday's showdown, Purdue will likely be looking dish out some long-awaited payback as well.

Last season, Purdue was the top seed in the conference tournament and was dealt an early exit by Michigan. The Boilermakers were ousted in the quarterfinals after they missed the front end of a one-and-one late in regulation that sent it to overtime, where the Wolverines came out on top.

“I mean, it’s a good opportunity,” Purdue sophomore guard Carsen Edwards said. “This was a goal of ours to be able to have this opportunity to win it. So, to have this opportunity here just for us as a team and for the seniors as well is a good opportunity in an environment like this. Hopefully, we can take advantage of it.”

Michigan. Purdue. Round 3. A title and revenge on the line on the sport’s biggest stage.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Michigan freshman forward Isaiah Livers said. “I can’t wait.”



Michigan vs. Purdue

Tip-off: 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Madison Square Garden, New York

TV/radio: CBS/WJR 760, WWJ 950

Records: Michigan 27-7; Purdue 28-5

Outlook: The Wolverines, seeded No. 5 for the Big Ten tournament, and the Boilermakers, seeded No. 3, meet for the third time this season. Purdue won 70-69 on Jan. 9 in Ann Arbor and 92-88 on Jan. 25 in West Lafayette.