Michigan upsets No. 14 Purdue with 82-70 victory on Senior Day
Five members of the Michigan men’s basketball team stood at halfcourt flanked by their parents, holding up their framed uniforms to a roaring round of applause from the sellout crowd of 12,707 at Crisler Center.
These Wolverines — guard Derrick Walton Jr., wing Zak Irvin, forward Mark Donnal, forward Sean Lonergan and guard Andrew Dakich — were freshmen on the team that won Michigan’s first outright Big Ten championship since 1986.
But on their Senior Day against No. 14 Purdue on Saturday, it was sophomore forward Moritz Wagner who took center stage, leading the way for the Wolverines (9-7 Big Ten, 19-10 overall) on both ends of the court in Michigan’s 82-70 upset win over the conference-leading Boilermakers (12-4, 23-6).
“It’s very good for us to have this win, but it doesn’t really matter who we play,” Wagner said. “For us, it’s simple — the approach is always the same. We go into the game to win it because we got to. It’s our only choice.”
Coming into the contest, the Wolverines knew their main objective would be to stop Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan and center Isaac Haas. Swanigan, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year and the likely Big Ten Player of the Year, averaged a double-double with 18.6 points and 12.9 rebounds entering the matchup. Haas, in his own right, is the conference’s tallest player at 7-foot-2 and averaged 13.4 points off the bench.
As the primary defender on Swanigan, Wagner shut down his fellow sophomore all game long. Every time Swanigan so much as sniffed the ball, Wagner put himself in position to make the stop. Assisted by strong help defense from Walton, Wagner forced multiple traveling violations, three personal fouls and a whopping five turnovers from the Boilermakers’ big man.
Wagner frustrated Swanigan to the point where — when Wagner picked his pocket three minutes into the second half — Swanigan pulled him down to the ground rather than let him run off with yet another takeaway.
Though Swanigan still scored nine points in each half to reach his season average of 18, Wagner didn’t let him make his usual impact on the game.
“Regardless of whether we scored or not, we locked in defensively,” Wagner said. “As a team, we just executed the game plan really well, and that was my focus after every basket.
“Swanigan and Haas are really good players. They’re gonna hook shots over you. You just gotta give them the worst possible shot.”
While Wagner did the stopping on defense, he played like a man who couldn’t be stopped on the offensive end, particuarly in the first half. He scored 22 of his game-high 24 points in the opening 20 minutes alone.
“He was the difference,” said Purdue coach Matt Painter. “Not just in the first half, but I thought the whole game. Just setting the tone … his ability to stretch the defense and their ability to find him in that matchup.”
In the first four minutes of the game, Wagner hit back-to-back layups and then added a third after an Irvin layup to give Michigan an 8-4 lead.
And when the Wolverines broke away from Purdue with a 21-7 run from 9:57 to 4:40 left in the half, Wagner knocked down four 3-pointers — interrupted by five points from Walton and another layup of his own — to give Michigan a 36-20 lead.
“(His) four threes were a big difference-maker,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “… To pound the ball into the post is very difficult with Moe with the likes of Haas and Swanigan because it compromises the areas you work in, so we just try to spread them out.
“If we don’t make those threes, then we’re probably down here thinking we shot too many threes.”
Timely triples were a trend for the Wolverines throughout the day, as redshirt junior guard Duncan Robinson hit a 3-pointer to beat the halftime buzzer, sending Michigan to the locker room with a 45-30 lead.
And when the Wolverines needed another big-time shot in the second half after Purdue had cut Michigan’s lead to 73-67 with 2:14 left to play, Walton iced the game.
With the shot clock winding down, Walton evaded the double team and shot the ball from up and under the defender’s arm from behind the 3-point line as time expired to put Michigan back up 76-67.
The last time the Wolverines took on a ranked opponent was last Thursday night, when they had to neutralize then-No.11 Wisconsin’s two big men, Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ. In that matchup, Wagner limited Hayes to just six points and Michigan pulled off the 64-58 upset.
Following that formula again on Saturday, the Wolverines earned yet another upset and possibly, a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.