Wolverines upset Purdue, advance to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals

Friday, March 10, 2017 - 12:56pm

WASHINGTON — Before the Michigan men’s basketball team went into overtime against No. 13 Purdue, Zak Irvin had a message for his team.

The senior wing came into the huddle and screamed incessantly, “Not today, not today.”

It was the same message that assistant coach Billy Donlon wrote on the locker room wall before the game. The Wolverines had lost to the Boilermakers a year ago in the Big Ten Tournament, and “Not today” was a symbol of the fact that they didn’t want to run into the same fate again.

“They ended our Big Ten Tournament chances last year,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “We had to make sure going forward that we came down (to the Big Ten Tournament) to win it. We didn’t come down here to try to make the NCAA Tournament, we came down here to win it.”

And in a game pundits called a matchup between the two hottest teams currently in the Big Ten — the teams were a combined 16-4 in their last 10 games — it certainly lived up to its billing as Michigan prevailed, 74-70, in an overtime thriller at the Verizon Center on Friday afternoon.

After a wild ending to regulation that saw Irvin tie up the game with four seconds left in the game, he also provided the spark the Wolverines, scoring Michigan’s only two field goals in the extra period to push it to victory.

“(Zak’s bucket) was a big one,” said senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. “He got a great look and got two big buckets in a row. I just ran over and told him ‘I’m proud of you, you made a big play in one of the biggest moments of the season.’ ”

It was a quick turnaround for Michigan (10-8 Big Ten, 22-11 overall), which had just beaten Illinois less than 24 hours prior. Many wondered if the Wolverines would have the legs to keep up with a physical Boilermaker team.

But Michigan came to play in a tight game in which there were 18 lead changes.

“(We) just (had) a warrior mentality,” Irvin said. “Going into the game, not today, we didn’t want to go home. We wanted to be able to outlast Purdue’s toughness and how physical they are.”

After sophomore forward Moritz Wagner pummeled Purdue (14-4, 25-7) for 24 points in the two teams’ first matchup 13 days ago, Purdue made it a priority to stop him.

And it was effective. Wagner struggled with the physicality of Purdue forwards Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas down low and played just four minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Wagner didn’t score in the stanza and ended the game with just five points in 17 minutes of action that didn’t see him touch the floor in overtime.

“(Purdue) started off switching on me,” Wagner said. “They cross matched. They put (Purdue forward Vince Edwards) on me and (Swanigan) on DJ.

“It’s not easy when they cross match because you have to get out of your normal offensive zone.”

But in Wagner’s scoring absence, redshirt sophomore forward DJ Wilson stepped up. The Sacramento, Calif. native scored 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting in the first half, which included 10 straight points to take the lead back from Purdue as the first half wound down.

“That’s the beauty of sport,” Wagner said. “You don’t know who’s gonna go out that day. It’s just a very talented group, a group that is not only talented but also believes in themselves, (and) in each other. We all know what we got, and all we got is all we need. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.”

On the other side of the court, the duo of Swanigan and Haas were almost perfect for Purdue. The duo combined for 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting in the first half.

But the second half was a different story as Wilson played exceptional defense on the duo to slow them down — holding Swanigan and Haas to just three and six points, respectively.   

It was just enough for Michigan to push the game to overtime, where the defense was even better, allowing only one field goal — a desperation 3-pointer by Purdue guard Ryan Cline with time running out.

It was the kind of defensive performance that Wagner had been waiting to see from his team, and he made his voice known after the game that he didn’t want to be labeled as an “offense-only team.”

“I’m a little bit tired of being that team that only wins when they hit big shots,” Wagner said. “It kind of bothers you as a player.”

Now, it’ll be another quick 24-hour turnaround for the Wolverines, as they will play Minnesota on Saturday afternoon after the Golden Gophers beat Michigan State on Friday.

It’s a tough task for a group that has had a whirlwind of a 48 hours. But at least for now, Michigan is just happy its Big Ten Tournament run wasn’t ended in the same fashion as last year.