With Purdue boasting the highest-scoring and most-efficient offense in the Big Ten, Michigan needed a team effort to find a way to slow down the Boilermakers.
On Friday, associate head coach Phil Martelli believed the Wolverines’ best strategy would be to counter by shooting a high percentage on their end of the floor.
“I actually think our best defense in this game is our offense,” Martelli said. “We just have to score the ball.”
The offense was able to score the ball on Saturday, as Michigan shot 55.8% from the floor and 44.8% from 3 — one of its best shooting performances of the season. But it still wasn’t enough.
As the Wolverines’ offense scrapped and clawed to keep the game close, the defense was never able to hold up its end of the bargain. Down the stretch, Michigan cut the deficit to as little as four, but never managed to take the lead.
One of the biggest thorns in the side of the Wolverines’ defense was Jaden Ivey. Michigan threw a number of players on Ivey, including fifth-year guard Eli Brooks, freshman forward Caleb Houstan and graduate transfer guard DeVante’ Jones, but none of the Wolverines fared particularly well. The Purdue guard picked apart his defensive assignment, slicing to the basket and floating to the air for numerous finishes at the rim. He finished with 23 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists and constantly scored timely buckets when the game got close.
“He’s very explosive, a very quick guard with crazy athleticism,” Jones said. “It wasn’t the easiest job but that’s a challenge that I’m willing to take night in and night out. But I gotta give my hats off to Jaden Ivey, he’s a really good player.”
The Wolverines knew they would have their hands full slowing down Purdue bigs Zach Edey and Trevion Williams, and no amount of offense could help keep pace with them. Michigan was shredded in the paint, surrendering 44 points around the rim including 26 in the second half.
Purdue, though, left the door open for the Wolverines to hang around thanks to a pedestrian performance from beyond the arc. The Boilermakers shot just 5-18 from 3 — their third worst performance the entire season. But the lack of paint presence ultimately left the point mute.
Twice within the final five minutes, Michigan had the game within five and allowed an easy layup from Purdue to push the game back out of reach.
“I just need to do my part of helping stop the opponent as well and not give up many easy baskets,” sophomore center Hunter Dickinson said. “I feel like I can take the blame for some of those easy baskets that they got.”
The biggest positive for the Wolverines on the defensive side of the ball came from their full court press. With under 12 minutes left in the second half and Michigan down 11, with the game appearing to slip away, Michigan coach Juwan Howard deployed the press to throw off the Boilermakers’ rhythm — and it worked. Purdue struggled to advance the ball across halfcourt, getting called for a 10-second violation and then fumbling a transition pass leading to a half court scramble on consecutive possessions.
“We needed to have something that can, of course, be disruptive and take them out of rhythm because it’s a very good team offensively,” Howard said. “They’re an offensive juggernaut with inside scoring as well as outside shooting… I tried to slow them down a little bit, tried to be disruptive and wanted to apply some type of pressure.”
Entering the second half, Michigan trailed by six and needed a herculean effort on offense to close the gap. The result was a torrid 68.8% shooting performance over the final 20 minutes and several big shots to silence the Boilermaker faithful. But Purdue found its groove as well, making 61% of its second half looks.
As the final seconds ticked away, the final score said it all. They still trailed by six.
Despite staying within striking distance, Michigan never got close enough for the kill shot. And it has its defense to blame.