WEST LAFAYETTE — On paper, Michigan was overmatched.
No. 4 Purdue had two dominant centers, a top NBA prospect and the most efficient offense in the country.
On the court, this proved to be true as the Wolverines (11-9 overall, 5-5 Big Ten) lost to the Boilermakers (20-3, 9-3), 82-76.
“Well, it’s frustrating to lose,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “We competed in a tough environment with a really good team.”
For Michigan, it started off bleak. Mackey Arena was rocking and the Wolverines did not look ready. Airballs from fifth-year guard Eli Brooks and freshman wing Caleb Houstan were juxtaposed with hot shooting from Purdue, and Michigan found itself in an early deficit. At the under 12, the Boilermakers led, 20-8.
Spurred on by sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, slowly but surely, the Wolverines made headway. Once Michigan fell down, 30-20, after a pair of dunks by Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, Dickinson made three of the Wolverines’ next four, including two 3-pointers.
After the Boilermakers threatened to run Michigan out of the gym early on, the Wolverines clawed their way back within reach. The once 12-point deficit became just one. But, as was the common theme of the day, when Michigan came within striking distance, it couldn’t get over the hump. The Wolverines made just one shot over the final four minutes of the half.
It had become clear that Michigan’s offense would not be able to keep up unless the Wolverines could come up with some stops on the other end of the floor.
“I gotta do my part of helping stop the opponent as well,” Dickinson said. “Not giving up so many easy baskets.”
Michigan’s hot shooting continued as the second half started, a 3-pointer from Houstan and two jumpers from Dickinson brought the Wolverines within one. Michigan had its lone chance at the lead in the second half as graduate transfer guard DeVante’ Jones bolted down the lane, but as he jumped into the contact, he was called for his first of two charges within two minutes of game time.
Momentum was lost.
Ivey continued playing like a star as he cut up the Wolverines’ ball screen defense to get to the rim at will. Ivey’s play helped Purdue dominate Michigan in the paint, outscoring it 44-26 on the day.
“(Ivey) did a really good job attacking the basket, getting downhill,” Howard said. “We have to do a better job of making sure that we don’t allow those blow-byes.”
The Wolverines’ deficit reverted back to nine in what seemed like an instant. If they let up for even a moment or had any kind of lapse, the Boilermakers instantly jumped on them. It didn’t matter that through not even 30 minutes of game time, Dickinson had 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting or that Michigan was shooting 7-for-15 from deep. Purdue had a plus-10 advantage on the glass, made more field goals and shot and converted more free throws.
The Wolverines started a full-court press in a desperate attempt to get within punching distance of the Boilermakers, but it wasn’t enough. Purdue calmly kept Michigan at an arm’s length, just as they did all day long.
The Wolverines found what may have been a breakthrough when a corner three from Jones cut the deficit to only four with a little over two minutes left, but it was too little too late. With a chance at getting within one score, Dickinson was stripped at the baseline. The — as Howard put it — “offensive juggernaut” that is Purdue once again went down the court and scored with ease.
“Basketball is about runs, man,” Howard said. “You try to prevent your opponent from scoring, but realistically that’s not going to happen.”
Michigan could never truly get over the hump. It didn’t matter how well the Wolverines shot the ball, or that they competed, Purdue was simply the better team.