It was a boring game. Then it wasn’t.
It was a game in which senior guard Zavier Simpson couldn’t hit a dart board with shotgun. Then he was leading the offense in double overtime.
In a back-and-forth slugfest characterized by sloppy basketball, a tense second half and two thrilling overtime periods, the Michigan men’s basketball team clung onto the narrowest of leads to steal away a win from Purdue in double overtime, 84-78.
In the initially-sluggish-then-absolutely-electric affair, two struggling offenses played a game of, ‘Who can play the sloppiest game of basketball in a win.’ Thursday, that just so happened to be the Wolverines.
Michigan (11-4 overall, 2-2 Big Ten), hobbled by the injury to its second-leading scorer, junior forward Isaiah Livers, tried any and everything to fill the offensive gap and put points on the board against Purdue (9-7, 2-3).
In the first half, those efforts were spent in vain with the first 20 minutes of play shrouded by turnovers.
The Wolverines went just 3-for-12 in the first half, and Simpson attempted just two shots himself in the first 20 minutes. The second half opened in the same vein with Simpson missing the mark on his first four shot attempts from deep.
A terse showdown characterized the remainder of the game, though, highlighted by an immense showing from Boilermakers forward Trevion Williams, who stepped up for star forward Matt Haarms after he went down early with a hip injury. Williams finished with a whopping 36 points and 20 boards while maintaining Purdue’s slim lead for most of the second half.
“Well they play people one-on-one in the post, and he’s a good little post player, so we just tried to get him the basketball,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “So when Matt went out, we wanted to focus on going to (senior center Jon) Teske and trying to score, trying to get to the free throw line, layups, post moves.”
Added Teske: “He did very well. Watching him on film, I knew what he has, and he came in and he did his job. He led his team, and with Haarms hurt, he had to do a little more, and they were playing through him.”
Michigan was finally able to break the lead and tie the game following an offensive rebound, made-layup and ensuing 3-point shot from Teske.
The final five minutes of the game were a back-and-forth slugfest with each point feeling like an insurmountable mountain. With the clock ticking down, the Wolverines were called for a goaltend to put Purdue ahead by two, setting up a Michigan possession where Simpson drove to the hoop for the tie. The Boilermakers then called timeout for their final look at the basket with 15 seconds remaining.
Guard Aaron Wheeler drove to the basket in an attempt to find Williams. The pass was a bit too much for Williams to handle, though, allowing freshman forward Franz Wagner to deflect his shot and send the thriller to overtime.
From there, it was the Zavier Simpson show.
Any sense of a shooting slump flew out the door, and Simpson took charge on offense.
“It’s just about staying locked in,” Simpson said. “I don’t like to think about myself, and tonight showed. I took one or two shots in the first half, and I came out and had 22 points. So it’s about staying locked in and just putting things inside a box, and putting things like that inside right now and make sure we win and make sure I’m doing everything I can to put my team in a winning position.”
And the show would carry throughout both of the ensuing overtime periods, with Simpson finishing his stellar performance with 22 points and nine assists.
As overtime ticked on, excitement built upon each shot. Each dribble. Each make. The match wasn’t a question of who wanted it more, but more of which team could execute in the big moments. The first overtime decidedly announced that neither team was worthy, and following a Williams miss in the post and another miss on a half-court Simpson heave, the game was sent to double overtime.
Teske started the second period of free basketball early with an and-1 layup at the rim. Not wanting to be outdone, Simpson promptly hit a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to send Crisler Center into a frenzy, taking a 74-68 lead.
Then the shots just kept falling and Michigan never looked back, with Wagner hitting a 3-pointer to spread the lead to nine. Suddenly, the offense that seemed so anemic in the first half had come to life when it mattered most.
In the end, Purdue missed the big ones and Simpson hit them. Ask anyone around the program, and they’ll let you know why.
“He’s a senior, he wanna win so bad, you can just see it in the way he plays,” said sophomore guard David DeJulius. “He just willed us to win because he’s a senior, and he wants to go out with a bang.”