To Michigan, its 61-55 win over Purdue was a testament to what the Wolverines can be.
Despite trailing the entire game and struggling to find offense, Michigan outrebounded and outhustled the Boilermakers when it mattered most to secure its third top-25 win of the season.
But with a third matchup against the Wolverines looming in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, Purdue doesn’t see it that way.
“It was just us not being ready to play,” said Boilermaker forward Caleb Swanigan. “It was the only game this season that we’ve been outrebounded, so that’s a testament to the type of effort we put in. I don’t think we respected them as much as we should’ve, but I feel like we’ve grown up a lot as a team since then.
“We decided what we wanted to do as a team, and we decided to never be beat by effort again.”
Aside from a close loss at Indiana, Purdue has lived up to Swanigan’s word. The Boilermakers are 5-1 since their loss in Ann Arbor, including wins over Maryland and Wisconsin. Now, they have a chance to avenge the game that slipped away, and advance to the Big Ten Tournament finals too.
To do that, Purdue will have to play to its strengths. With two 7-footers and a stingy defense, the Boilermakers can prevent serious matchup problems for Michigan. But in Ann Arbor, Purdue felt it left its usual recipe for success.
“Just keep going with what works,” said Hammons, who was name Big Ten Defensive Player the Year earlier this week. “Be physical, get in better position and just come out there and set the tone early.”
Added Raphael Davis, who won the award in 2015: “You can’t let them get going early. We’ve got to give it to them early. … We felt that they played harder than us at Michigan … it’s one of those things where when teams play harder than you, you want to go out there and prove to not only everybody in the country but to yourself that you can be one of the hardest-playing teams in the country.”
Of course, the Wolverines have put forth plenty of effort so far in the Big Ten Tournament. While the Boilermakers laughed to an 89-58 win over Illinois in their first tournament game Friday, Michigan has had to gut out 85 minutes of close basketball just to make it this far.
The Wolverines topped Northwestern in overtime on Thursday and followed that up with a buzzer-beating win over Indiana on Friday.
While Michigan fights fatigue and rides a wave of fortunate late-game heroics, Purdue feels that the antidote is avoiding the situation altogether.
“They know how to win,” Swanigan said. “In close games, they’ve shown they can win. So we want to make sure it isn’t close or that it comes down to the last minute.”