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Midway through the second half, senior guard Eli Brooks dove for a loose ball, scraping at the hardwood as he attempted to give the Michigan men’s basketball team an extra possession. Brooks didn’t end up covering up the loose ball, instead it fell into the arms of a Purdue player. 

But Brooks’s unmistakable energy served as a microcosm for the Wolverines’ identity: Play every game like it’s 0-0. Plays like this one from Brooks served as a blueprint for the rest of his squad, making sure that every player on the floor gave it their all for 40 minutes. 

By the time the buzzer sounded, Michigan had put together a dominant 70-53 win to improve its record to 13-1 and 7-1 in conference play, buoyed in part by a dominant defensive performance. Much of the night’s success can be traced back to the team’s three captains: senior guard Eli Brooks, senior forward Isaiah Livers and senior forward Austin Davis. In a potential trap game, the team’s three leaders took it upon themselves to make sure that the Wolverines exited West Lafayette with a victory.

“If you’re trying to hold someone else accountable and you’re not doing it yourself, you can’t be a leader that way,” Brooks said. “So you have to buy in and do the things you preach. I think that goes a long way with everybody on the team. They see the things that I do, the things I do for the team. I think that carries a lot of weight.”

Livers was the night’s unquestioned star, scoring 22 points and hauling in eight rebounds, in addition to showing off his prowess from long range, shooting 3-for-5 from 3-point range. Livers scored over 20 points for the second consecutive game on Friday night and appears to be rounding into form as an All-Big Ten forward.

“I’m just locked in. I think at a point there I was just like, you know what, I’m gonna go out there, play my game, not overthink it,” Livers said. “(I) shot so many shots during the quarantine. I’m built for this, I’m a shooter. I have the confidence every time I shoot the ball, that ball’s going in.”

Despite not starting the game, Davis provided a spark off the bench. He scored six first-half points, giving Michigan good offensive production down low against a stout Purdue interior defense. And despite picking up four personal fouls, he shut down Purdue’s Trevion Williams while on the court. Against one of the top big men in the country in Purdue’s Trevion Williams, the veteran Davis looked unfazed.

“Austin did not back down against the big,” Wolverine coach Juwan Howard said. “He was very aggressive when he caught the ball on the block and in the paint.”

On the defensive end of the ball, Eli Brooks once again served as the catalyst for a dominant 40 minutes. In addition to scoring 11 points, Brooks limited the Boilermakers’ Jaden Ivey to 3-for-14 shooting from the field and notched two steals and two blocks. Brooks, whose one missed game resulted in Michigan surrendering 77 points to Minnesota, has looked right at home since returning from a right foot injury.

“We wanted to make them feel uncomfortable for a whole 94 feet for 40 minutes and that’s what we did,” Brooks said. “We forced turnovers, scored off turnovers, that was a big emphasis on the game plan.”

With the Big Ten season quickly reaching its midpoint, the Wolverines find themselves with a one-game lead atop the standings in large part due to the leadership from their veterans. In one of the deepest conferences in the country, having such solid veteran leadership may help set the Wolverines apart from the rest of the pack come March.