WEST LAFAYETTE — The Michigan men’s basketball team has a roster that knows how to win.
That is, anywhere but West Lafayette.
Even under the guidance of senior captains Zavier Simpson and Jon Teske — who have claimed a pair of Big Ten Tournament titles and made a trip to the Final Four — the Wolverines entered this season without a road win against Purdue since 2014.
But on Saturday, Michigan changed that. Spurred by junior forward Isaiah Livers’ return from an ankle injury, the Wolverines topped the Boilermakers (14-14, 7-10), 71-63, securing their fifth-straight win.
For Michigan (18-9 overall, 9-7 Big Ten), it’s more evidence of a team peaking at the right time. The trend has become synonymous with the program. Over the last four years, the Wolverines’ combined February record is 22-6. Saturday’s win came inside a packed house at Mackey Arena, where the Boilermakers had previously run Virginia, Michigan State and Iowa off the court.
Michigan’s current five-game winning streak is its longest since opening the season with seven consecutive victories — a stretch highlighted by a Battle 4 Atlantis championship victory over now-No. 2 Gonzaga.
“In the Bahamas, we looked like an offensive team,” associate head coach Phil Martelli said. “Now, I think we look like a winning team.”
If anything, Saturday serves as a measuring stick. Against a team trying to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes off life support, Michigan dominated much of the first half. Less than two months after surrendering 36 points to Purdue center Trevion Williams, the Wolverines forced him into an inefficient 8-of-21 shooting performance.
On the other end, it didn’t take long for Michigan to overcome its 3-of-14 start from beyond the arc. A trio of three consecutive 3-pointers — one from Teske and two from freshman wing Franz Wagner — helped inflate the Wolverines’ lead from six to 13 in a three-minute span.
Purdue coach Matt Painter called a timeout to curb the 3-point barrage, but once the Boilermakers began running shooters off the arc, Michigan made a dent in the paint. Wagner beat his defender backdoor for an easy dunk and, less than a minute later, Teske put an exclamation point on the first half with a two-handed flush of his own, giving the Wolverines a 15-point lead at the break.
The second half followed a similar script, with Michigan shutting the door on any comeback bid before it could become a legitimate threat. Wagner led the way with a 5-for-6 second-half shooting performance en route to a career-high 22 points — halting a cold spell that saw him shoot just 35 percent over the last six games.
“My shot was falling, finally,” Wagner said. “I’m working hard in practice. I’m taking shots I’m comfortable taking (and) taking them with confidence. That’s what the coaching staff wants from us. I think it’s important to keep doing that even when the percentages aren’t where you want them to be.”
Added Martelli: “Other than strength, I don’t know what isn’t a perfect basketball player about him. … If he was a kid that played (high school basketball) in Michigan last year, he would’ve been a McDonald’s All-American. … He’s one of the best freshmen in America.”
Only one month ago, Michigan was 0-5 in true road environments, wondering if a trip to Lincoln might doom its season in January. It has since won all four of its games away from Ann Arbor, finding different ways to get it done almost every time.
On Wednesday, the Wolverines handed Rutgers its first home loss of the season. First-year coach Juwan Howard attributed it to his team’s “grit,” adding that it “comes from within your heart and within your mindset.”
Four days later, his group convincingly beat a Purdue team that was previously 10-3 on its own floor.
And now, with the calendar less than a week away from flipping to March, Michigan is in full stride.
“The first statement to them in July was that under this system, they were going to learn to share the game,” Martelli said. “And that’s what we do — we share the game. … This team now has complete trust in the way they’re being taught, the way they’re being asked to play and they trust each other.”