Michigan coach talks about his team's performance and the final minute of Tuesday's 70-69 loss. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — It was right there and then it was gone, the ball, the possession, the game. It was a brutal way to lose, and yet when the Wolverines shake it off, they should extract two important elements from it.
Encouragement and resolve. Michigan should be encouraged it rallied and could have — should have — beaten No. 5 Purdue. And then the Wolverines should be resolved to avoid the type of mistakes that cost them, as the Boilermakers pulled out a 70-69 thriller Tuesday night at Crisler Center.
This is a revealing week for Michigan (14-4), with a visit to Michigan State on Saturday, and in some ways this was an illuminating game. The Wolverines wiped out a 14-point deficit, took a four-point lead, then had possession in a tie game twice in the final minute. People will gripe about the officials’ out-of-bounds review that gave Purdue the ball with 6.2 seconds left on a Charles Matthews turnover. They might gripe about a subsequent foul call on Moritz Wagner, which allowed Isaac Haas to win it with four seconds left.
But in a gut-punch loss that snapped a seven-game winning streak, Michigan showed flashes of what might be coming. Michigan State and Purdue clearly are the best in a watered-down Big Ten, but this was (and still is) Michigan’s chance to show it resides in the next group with Ohio State, Minnesota and others. We’ll gather more evidence, one way or another, in East Lansing, but the Wolverines displayed a feisty fortitude that could develop into who they actually are.
“That one hurts,” Beilein said. “It was a great opportunity for us to beat a really, really good basketball team. It’s part of the game, you have to learn from it and get better from it. I know our kids will be better from this game.”
Purdue starts four seniors, including the 7-foot-2 Haas, who was an absolute load. The Boilermakers were so determined to keep Wagner from beating them, they broke character and switched on defense every time he touched it, daring Michigan’s backcourt to beat them.
It very nearly did. That’s the encouraging part, that guard Zavier Simpson hit back-to-back clutch 3-pointers, and freshman forward Isaiah Livers played well against Purdue senior Vincent Edwards. The unforgiving part is, it’s still an outcome that allowed Purdue (16-2) to go to 5-0 in the Big Ten, and it gets no easier Saturday in East Lansing.
Broken by the breaks
Before the officials could make two critical calls — both likely correct, by the way – the Wolverines had to make some critical mistakes. Michigan’s defense was befuddled much of the game, focusing so much on Haas inside, Purdue hit 12 of 21 3-pointers.
Then in the closing seconds, Matthews drove the left lane perhaps a few ticks too soon, and got the ball knocked away by Dakota Mathias. After a ridiculously long replay review, it was determined the ball ticked off Matthews’ hand and Purdue was awarded possession with 6.2 seconds left.
With four seconds left, Wagner was whistled as he wrapped an arm around Haas to tip away an entry pass. The crowd booed loudly as Haas hit the first free throw and missed the second, and Matthews’ near-halfcourt shot rimmed out at the buzzer.
A ticky-tack foul and tough replay overturn? Maybe.
A reminder of the narrow space between victory and defeat, between foul and fair, between hand and ball? Absolutely.
“With 5.6 seconds left, I was really convinced we had a play set up, we were gonna win the game,” Beilein said. “Then all of a sudden, they’re winning the game.”
Michigan hung close by, well, hanging close, winning the rebounding battle 36-29. But it will need Wagner to stay out of foul trouble and be more assertive, and the guess is, the 6-11 junior will have better games as his ankle returns to full health.
“It’s definitely frustrating when you keep battling back and don’t get the result you want,” senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. “I think we’re a really good team. We made mistakes down the stretch, we just gotta continue to grow, and I think we can be a great team.”
The Wolverines are growing, as Beilein’s teams generally do. They’ll have to grow a lot more to hang with the No. 4 Spartans.
Livers’ development is especially notable, and his minutes are rising as he scored in double digits for the third straight game. He was 4-for-4 from the field (2-for-2 on 3-pointers) and with a 6-7, 230-pound frame, has the bulk to give the Wolverines a physical presence. So does 7-1 sophomore Jon Teske, and they’ll need all of it.
“The result was an L, but it does raise our confidence that we can compete with a top-five team in the country,” Livers said. “And we got another one coming up. With (the Spartans) coming off a loss, I know they’re gonna come out and bring it. But we gotta come out and bring it too, doesn’t matter if there’s homecourt or not.”
The Wolverines have something to bring, and as the season unfolds, should have more to bring. That’s good, because they’ll need more against the best.