By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 30, 2014
Last Saturday in East Lansing, freshman guard Derrick Walton Jr. dropped 19 points and shed the title of an uneasy freshman. Thursday night, he continued to mature as the Michigan men’s basketball team downed Purdue, 75-66, for its 10th straight win.
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Walton shot 4-for-5 in the first half for nine of his 14 points. More importantly, though, he helped quarterback an offense that came out of the gate slowly. The 10th-ranked Wolverines missed their first three field goals and turned the ball over eight times in the first period — and 16 times on the night.
“Sixteen turnovers in a game?” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “I don’t recall the last time one of our teams won with 16 turnovers. Credit Purdue for being so aggressive. … But at the same time, you win a game with that, you have to shoot, you have to defend just enough.”
Fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan came down with his own rebound from a miss and put it through the cylinder to give Michigan (8-0 Big Ten, 16-4 overall) its first points two-and-a-half minutes into the game. Two possessions later, Walton buried a 3-pointer from the corner, setting off a 14-4 run for the Wolverines.
The Boilermakers (3-4, 13-8) didn’t let Michigan run away with the game in the first half, though. After sophomore guard Nik Stauskas threw down a dunk to give the Wolverines a 10-point lead, they fell flat on offense. Michigan missed three straight shots and turned the ball over four times in the following three-and-a-half minutes. On the other end, they switched into a three-quarter-court zone defense which Purdue easily gashed, allowing the Boilermakers to climb back and take a brief one-point lead.
Beilein said his assistant coaches convinced him to experiment with the zone defense, but he still isn’t sure of its upside.
A Walton layup with eight minutes left in the half finally snapped the dry spell, and an assist to Morgan a minute later for a dunk swung the pendulum back toward Michigan. As time expired at the end of the first 20 minutes, the 6-foot-1 guard split the Boilermakers’ defense and finger rolled in two points to send the Wolverines into the locker room with a 37-29 lead.
“I think his passing has gotten so much better. (Walton is) seeing the floor better, knowing what to look for,” Morgan said. “Coach Beilein talks about the difference between running the play and being a player, and he’s been kinda finding that little soft spot in between.”
Added Beilein: “The two pull up jump shots (Walton) had, we didn't see that even earlier in practice. … Those were shots that a No. 3 (Trey Burke) used to hit last year for us over and over again.”
Michigan shot 9-of-10 from the field to begin the second half. It stretched an eight-point lead to 17 points and never looked back.
Stauskas was limited to just three shots beyond the arc but still had a game-high 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting. Purdue coach Matt Painter said he focused on limiting Stauskas and sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III. The strategy forced him to have a weaker defender cover sophomore guard Caris LeVert.
LeVert scored nine points in the second half to give him 14 on the night. He also collected 11 rebounds — a new career high — to give him the first double-double of his career.
Purdue ended the game on a 10-2 run, but the Wolverines had built up too large of a lead and held on to remain unbeaten in Big Ten play.