No. 3 Purdue tops Michigan in high-octane affair

Thursday, January 25, 2018 - 6:15pm

WEST LAFAYETTE — Zavier Simpson thought he had it.

With his team desperate for a bucket, the sophomore point guard jutted into the lane and rolled a layup off his fingertips. A make would’ve put the Michigan men’s basketball team within one shot of Purdue.

But Boilermakers guard Carsen Edwards had different plans. Edwards poked the attempt away. The Wolverines would finish the possession empty-handed.

The play proved to be a microcosm of Thursday night.

Michigan played one of its best games of the season, shooting 60 percent from the floor with a 13-for-23 effort from deep.

Yet, like Simpson against Edwards, the Wolverines couldn’t surpass one of the country’s best.

In a contest that featured 24 lead changes, No. 3 Purdue (8-0 Big Ten, 20-2 overall) outlasted the 25th-ranked Wolverines (6-4, 17-6), 92-88, at a ruckus Mackey Arena on Thursday.

Led by 30 points from guard Vincent Edwards, the Boilermakers made 31 of 50 attempts on the night to score the most they have in conference play.  

“You can’t win a game without defense — they scored 92 points today,” said junior forward Moritz Wagner. “We gotta do better defensively.”

Those struggles were compounded by Purdue guards who seemingly couldn’t miss from outside, shooting 55 percent from beyond the arc.

The Wolverines allow just over five 3-pointers per game. Purdue hit 11 Thursday.

“I think we’re one of the leaders in the country (in 3-point defense),” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “If (center Isaac) Haas scored 40 points, we’re okay, but we weren’t going to give up the 3. We couldn’t do that.”

Still, the Wolverines were able to match Purdue for most of the night.

Early in the second half, a pair of triples and a layup from senior guard Muhammed-Ali Abdur-Rahkman gave Michigan a one-point lead.

He’d really start to feel it, wearing his pink-coated Jordan’s amidst a sea of black and gold, ten minutes later.

With the game tied at 65, Abdur-Rakhman spotted up from the 3-point line. Calm and collected as always, he pulled the trigger even as Dakota Mathias came charging towards him. No panic, just buckets — giving the Wolverines the lead with roughly nine minutes to play.

But Purdue always had an answer. It came frequently courtesy of Vincent Edwards.

With a triple and pair of layups, he scored seven straight points for the Boilermakers as they went on an 11-2 run to take a nine-point lead.

“You can’t stop some of the shots that Vince Edwards made,” Beilein said. “They were just too good for us tonight.”

Michigan crawled back and cut the deficit to four with a minute and change left. But timely steals and 11-of-12 free-throws down the stretch sealed it for the Boilermakers.

“Shots were going in,” Abdur-Rahkman said, “and we knew we needed to weather their storm as much as possible, then bounce back. We didn’t do that enough.”

As he was for most of the night, Haas was unstoppable — especially in the game’s opening moments. A feed, spin and hook shot was the seven-footer’s go-to combination for the Boilermakers’ first three baskets.

The Wolverines couldn’t stop him from getting the ball inside. Carsen Edwards and Mathias made strong entry passes to end whatever chances the Wolverines had of guarding Haas down low.

“He’s impossible to guard, and he’s a bad matchup for us,” Beilein said. “You probably need a twin brother to guard him in the post.”

The Wolverines kept things in the first half close thanks to an unlikely source.

Early in the half, Beilein pulled his starting point guard aside after a bricked 3-pointer. But Simpson made his second attempt from deep — and more — count, finishing with a career-high 16 points.

In the end, though, it was yet another effort from Simpson and the Wolverines that came up just short against the Boilermakers.

Their first meeting went to the wire on Jan. 9 — but two late calls and the game went Purdue’s way, 70-69.   

Fifth-year senior Duncan Robinson said that first matchup didn’t “sit well” on Wednesday.

Thursday’s loss will feel the same way. 

“It’s incredible,” Beilein said. “They didn’t miss a shot and we almost came out of here with a ‘W.’ ”