By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 26, 2014
WEST LAFAYETTE — Michigan had another shot to win it, and this time, a miss would mean a loss. But Glenn Robinson III wasn’t about to let that happen.
The sophomore forward caught an over-the-head pass from Caris LeVert, which sailed over the Purdue defense from the opposite side of the court. Robinson found himself in the corner, then chiseled his way toward the rim and put up a leaner off the glass as time expired.
The ball hung on the rim, and with red lights illuminating the backboard behind it, it fell in to give the No. 16 Michigan’s basketball team the 77-76 overtime win.
“We run that play a lot,” Robinson said.
About every two weeks, according to Michigan coach John Beilein. He guesses they’ve practiced it about 10 times this year, and it has also been run in games in prior seasons. The play is meant as a misdirection — get the defenders moving toward the ball at one end of the court, and throw it over the top.
“I think that’s a great play, especially when you have multiple athletes on our team who can go get that pass with a couple seconds left,” said Robinson, who scored a team-high 17 points along with eight rebounds.
The win took longer than many would have expected, but the Wolverines slipped out of Mackey Arena with their most exhilarating victory of the season Wednesday night.
After coming back from down 19 in the first half, Michigan forced a tie late in regulation and took its first lead in overtime. In the extra period, the Wolverines generated their offense through a series of dump-offs to fifth-year center Jordan Morgan, who finished all three of his opportunities.
But Purdue hung tough and took the lead on two made free throws by guard Ronnie Johnson to put the Wolverines in a do-or-die position, down 76-75 with the ball. Beilein opted against calling a timeout and the play failed, with sophomore guard Nik Stauskas missing an off-balance layup.
Luckily for the Wolverines, there were still 15 seconds left. They fouled Purdue forward Kendall Stephens, and at that point, the Boilermakers had shot 17-for-17 from the foul line. But Stephens missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving Michigan another chance to win it.
Sophomore guard Caris LeVert dribbled down the court, but Beilein didn’t like his positioning. He called the team’s last timeout with 2.9 seconds left, giving the Wolverines one final shot.
“I seen him through my peripherals that he overran it,” Robinson said about the ensuing play. “He tried to go jump and get it. And I just took one dribble and was at the basket.”
Five minutes earlier, the Wolverines had another chance at a walk-off victory. Tied 65-65 with 31 seconds remaining, Johnson was called for a charge to give Michigan (12-3 Big Ten, 20-7 overall) the final possession. Beilein called timeout, but Stauskas was forced into a long 3-point miss to send the game into extra time.
It was the fifth straight game that Michigan struggled in the first half. In the first 12 minutes of action, Michigan shot 3-for-17 and was on pace to score 26 total points. The Wolverines lacked crispness on both ends. On two transition opportunities, Michigan guards threw the ball away, squandering chances to cut into the lead.
Michigan has scarcely been able to get productive performances out of both LeVert and Stauskas during the same game. On Wednesday, it got neither. Stauskas went an inefficient 5-for-18 for 15 points, while LeVert went 4-for-12 for 14 points, though both were aggressive and created opportunities for teammates.
“We could get to the rim, we couldn’t do anything once we got there,” Beilein said, crediting the defense of Purdue center AJ Hammons. “When we did get some open jump shots, we were gonna have to make them. We did not shoot the ball well in the first half — that had a lot to do with Purdue as well.”
Things weren’t much better on the other end. Regular Michigan-slayer Terone Johnson was left open for 16 points in the first half, with 12 of those coming on 3-pointers. Michigan was slow to rotate on a handful of possessions, leading Beilein to opt for a zone defense.
“We’re confident in running that defense, especially when we’re coming back from leads like that today,” LeVert said. “So I think that really gave us an energy boost out there.”
While Michigan threatened to take charge of the game at points in the second half, they didn’t make a big move at Purdue (5-10, 15-13) until the final two minutes of regulation.
Down 63-57, Michigan got a fast-break layup and a pair of free throws from sophomore guard Caris LeVert, as well as two makes from the charity stripe by Robinson to force the game’s first tie since the opening tip.
“It wasn’t our night tonight,” Beilein said. “It was their night most of the night, and then we just had the breaks down the stretch.”
The made free throws down the stretch were welcome for the Wolverines, who had struggled from the line all game. They were 11-for-19 at one point in the second half before making their final six.
As Michigan pulled together its composure at the foul line, it gave itself a better and better chance to win the game as the buzzer neared. Wednesday night, it also brought the Wolverines one big step closer to a Big Ten title.
“We’ve been through a lot of situations throughout the year,” Robinson said. “One thing that we learned is never give up on a game.”