WASHINGTON — Wednesday afternoon, the Michigan men’s basketball team was set to fly to Washington D.C. for the Big Ten Tournament.
But a plane accident derailed the Wolverines’ plans, and they were forced to fly out Thursday morning, landing just three hours before the noon tip-off and not arriving at the Verizon Center until about 10:40.
That didn’t stop Michigan, though, as it came out on fire, jumping out to a 20-point lead and ultimately won, 75-55.
Now, less than 24 hours after that victory, Michigan will have an even tougher test in No. 13 Purdue.
“That’s the beauty of the (Big Ten Tournament),” said sophomore forward Mortiz Wagner. “Somehow you gotta get to the next one in any way. It doesn’t matter what happened. We (did) it once now, we can do it twice.”
“Luckily, we just played Purdue, so we still know the strategy, we still know how they play.”
The two squads met just 12 days ago back in Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines pummeled the Boilermakers, 82-70, on Senior Day. Wagner scored 24 points, including 20 in the first half, on 10-of-15 shooting.
Even more impressively, he did it with Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan on him for most of the game. Swanigan couldn’t keep up with Wagner, allowing him to get open frequently for pick-and-pop shots.
On the other side of the court, Wagner and redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson shut down Purdue’s duo of big men Swanigan and Isaac Haas, holding the pair to a combined 26 points and 11 rebounds. They average 31.3 points per game in addition to 17.7 boards per game.
“I think for me personally it helps a lot too because (they) won’t change their whole playbook through two weeks or one week,” Wagner said. “So you know what they’re going for.”
Added Wilson: “My biggest thing is trying to stay in front of them and box them out. They’re two great rebounders, especially on the offensive glass. So I need to try to stay in front of them, chest them up and box them out.”
Michigan, though, shot an astronomical 65.5 percent in the first half, and replicating that performance against the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten will be a tough act.
“We know that they’re Big Ten champs,” Wilson said. “They’re a great team, they have a great post presence and they shoot the ball well from 3.”
Outside of its frontcourt, Purdue boasts guards Carsen and Vince Edwards (no relation), who average 12.3 and 10.6 points, respectively, as well as guard Dakota Mathias, who is one of the Big Ten’s most prolific 3-point shooters, shooting 47.8 percent from behind the arc on 136 attempts.
The Wolverines will also see a familiar face in guard Spike Albrecht, who transferred to Purdue this past offseason after four years in Ann Arbor, though Albrecht has played a minimal role on the Boilermaker team. He averages just 12.9 minutes per game.
Since Senior Day in Ann Arbor, Purdue has won twice, at home against Indiana and on the road at Northwestern. But as well as the Boilermakers have played this season, Michigan’s confidence might be at an all-time high after it has won seven of its last nine games.
“To be honest with you, I think this group can beat anyone,” Wagner said. “That’s how much I believe in this group.”
Added Wilson: “If we add a couple of wrinkles to how we played (Purdue) last time, we’ll be fine.”
That confidence grew Thursday afternoon when the Wolverines beat the Fighting lllini just hours after jumping off a plane from Detroit. Now, the biggest challenge for Michigan will be to play with the same adrenaline when a bit of normalcy returns to their lives.