Michigan did all of the hard work to pull within striking distance of its first statement win of the season, but it couldn’t finish the job.
The Wolverines took a 69-66 lead with 2:50 to play, despite trailing by double digits in both halves, and then failed to score on their final three possessions of the game.
Zavier Simpson missed a desperation pull-up jumper on a possession that stalled out. John Beilein called for a timeout on the next offensive possession, but Purdue never allowed Michigan to get into its offensive set and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman missed a step-back three. Then with the chance to hold for the last shot, Charles Matthews turned the ball over on a ball screen drive with six seconds to play.
The play was ruled a turnover after a controversial replay review that determined the ball was deflected by Dakota Mathias, but remained in Matthews’ hand for a split second. Gene Steratore is no stranger to long replay reviews from his time as a NFL official, but this three-plus minute review was one of the more creative ones of the season.
Michigan burned its foul to give and couldn’t get the stop it needed to send the game to overtime as Moritz Wagner fouled Isaac Haas on the inbound play.
Wagner’s foul was a mistake, but Michigan also allowed Purdue to advance the ball a long way up the court without touching it and used the foul to give at the wing, where every coach calls a timeout, rather than in the backcourt.
Haas split the free throws and Charles Matthews tossed up a 35-footer that rimmed off as the horn expired.
Another chance gone missing.
Michigan’s defense wasn’t ready for a team as good as Purdue in the first 10 minutes of the game. Isaac Haas was dominant early, scoring six points in the first five minutes of the game, but the real killer was Michigan’s inability to fight through screens on offense. The Boilermakers hit plenty of tough shots, but they were getting far too many of the 3-pointers that Michigan’s defense wants to prevent.
Purdue finished the night shooting 12-of-21 from 3-point range compared to just 15-of-36 inside the arc for a 58% effective field goal percentage. The threes weren’t all easy looks — Purdue hit a handful of difficult, full speed threes off of screens — but they were the difference in the game.
Michigan’s defensive rebounding continued to be very good other than a few timely putbacks by Nojel Eastern, who started crashing from the point guard spot when he was on the floor.
With a bit of 3-point luck we are talking about a great defensive performance — few people would expect these two teams to be equal at 28 points in the paint –but in the end this was on-par with Purdue’s Big Ten averages in terms of per-possession output.
Purdue’s defense makes it really hard to play offense and forces teams into one-on-one isolation matchups as well as any team in the country. Case in point, Michigan scored 1.14 points per possession but only 35% of its made baskets were assisted.
The Boilermakers threw out their standard ball screen defense and switched every ball screen when Isaac Haas was on the floor, essentially daring Michigan’s guards to make plays one-on-one.
“Did you see the game here last year? We weren’t going to do that again,” Matt Painter said after the game. “We were going to make them beat us a different way. Give Zavier Simpson credit, he almost beat us. But my man didn’t beat us, Moe Wagner. He destroyed us last year. I wasn’t going to watch that again.”
It took a while, but eventually Michigan’s guards did a really good job of attacking the switches. Zavier Simpson and Charles Matthews both made impressive plays against a defense that was daring them to attack, drive or shoot over the top and combined for 29 points and 7 assists on 24 shot attempts.
Michigan’s offense sputtered early, but figured out the right way to attack in the second half, managing 1.27 points per possession in the final 20 minutes including 7-of-12 shooting from deep. The Wolverines have also developed a knack for rebounding missed free throws and grabbed 34% of their misses on the night for an impressive 17 second chance points. That skill proved critical at several junctures late, but masks that the Wolverines were just 7-of-11 at the charity stripe.
This was the best opportunity that Michigan will have for a statement win all season and the game was right there for the taking. The loss is going to sting, but it is college basketball. The Wolverines will take the court at least another 14 times this season and many of those games will be just an unpredictable as tonight’s. That quest will start on Saturday afternoon in East Lansing when Michigan battles Michigan State in its only match-up of the season.
- Isaiah Livers: Making almost every shot helps — Livers is 14-of-17 from the floor with a 102.9 effective field goal percentage over the last three games — but Isaiah Livers has blossomed into a different player. Michigan has desperately needed Livers to turn into this player, but he just hadn’t been able to get out of his own way on either end of the floor. The game has quite noticeably slowed down for him and while his shooting is certain to regress, he’s far more comfortable making plays on both ends of the court. He was giving Vince Edwards, a four-year starter and Big Ten champ, everything that he could deal with and more — on both ends of the floor — in the second half. Livers playing at this level, or remotely close to this level, greatly elevates Michigan’s ceiling over the next three months.
- Zavier Simpson: Simpson’s final line: 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and one turnover in 32 minutes. He’s small, has a limited jump shot and the other team’s gameplan was basically “that guy can’t beat us”. It isn’t all conventional, but Simpson made a ton of big plays. He drove by Haas for creative finishes at the rim, he made back-to-back threes late, he rebounded and he had over half of Michigan’s assists on the night. Other teams are going to force Simpson into a similar task and today proved that he’s capable of making critical plays within the offense.
- Jordan Poole: Is he reckless and exuberant? Sure, but he has no problem making big plays in big games. Poole brings instant offensive energy off the bench and scored 8 points on 2-of-4 shooting with a banked 3-pointer. He gets moving too fast at times and can force the issue, but at times this offense needs someone who can force the issue. He also managed to eliminate, at least on first glance, some of the glaring defensive mistakes that plagued him earlier this year.
- Moritz Wagner: Wagner provided an offensive spark early, but finished with only 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting. Even if he didn’t have a huge impact scoring the ball, his presence on the floor was enough to completely change Purdue’s defensive gameplan. I thought he forced a few looks, but Michigan’s whole mismatch is dependent on him being an offensive threat in these situations.
- Charles Matthews: Matthews continues to provide a tantalizing but frustrating mix of “that’s it” and “man, I really hope this works” plays when he’s on the floor. When everything is clicking, it looks great and you can see all of his potential, but he was just 5-of-14 from the floor and turned the ball over 4 times in 36 minutes. At this point, I think a lot of it comes down to game reps. He just hasn’t been in a lot of these situations as a college player and is learning on the job in a critical role. His 3-point shooting against the switch was impressive today (he was 3-of-5 from deep and one miss was the buzzer-beater), but he struggled to score inside the arc (2-of-9) including back-to-back shuffle cut post-ups against Ryan Cline. The pieces are there, but right now I think we are waiting for that moment when he realizes how to put it all together.
- Jon Teske: Teske gave Michigan 11 solid minutes of defensive presence and had some nice moments defensively, especially in the first half, against Haas that slowed him down. It was his rebounding in traffic that really stood out to me as he grabbed a few contested rebounds in the second half that he wouldn’t have come close to earlier in his career. He doesn’t provide the offensive threat (and Purdue could defend things differently when he was in the game), but his defense provides a steady impact off the bench.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: It was a very quiet night for the senior guard who has had his fair share of big games against Purdue. Abdur-Rahkman finished 3-of-9 from the floor and 1-of-5 from deep. He was forced into a number of off the dribble jumpers which aren’t his strong suit, but he eventually knocked in a few.
- Duncan Robinson: Robinson has to make shots to make an impact and he didn’t tonight. He got the quick hook in the 2nd half after not only missing a three, but making a couple defensive mistakes and never saw the floor again. He is trending in the wrong direction almost as quickly as Livers is trending in the right direction. He’s missing good looks, throwing lazy passes and just seems lost out there. Heading into East Lansing against a massive four man, we might see a switch in the starting lineup sooner than we imagined and maybe that’ll be what’s best for Duncan to reset.
- Eli Brooks: Brooks played 8 minutes and grabbed three rebounds, a steal and turned it over once. He had one of those moments where he was on the court in the first half and the game completed turned, but I can’t put my finger on any one particular thing he did. That’s what we’ve chalked up to ‘flow’ in the past this year, but he looked far less comfortable in the second half handling the ball or making any attacking moves on offense.