WASHINGTON — Billy Donlon is building a reputation for defacing walls.
It all started with one word — “streetfight” — scrawled across a wall in Michigan’s locker room before the Wolverines’ regular-season rematch against Illinois on Jan. 21.
Thursday afternoon, before the Michigan men’s basketball team faced the top-seeded Boilermakers with a chance to advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament, its assistant coach’s antics came back in full force. This time, it was “Not today”, imprinted on a locker room wall at the Verizon Center in between a clock and a TV.
When Duncan Robinson saw it, he thought it meant the Wolverines weren’t going to let Purdue do what they wanted on offense. Sean Lonergan echoed Robinson’s statement, explaining the team screams “not today” when it is going through defensive slides.
Zak Irvin viewed it as a symbolic declaration Michigan wasn’t going home Thursday.
And DJ Wilson said it meant Purdue wasn’t going to knock the Wolverines out of the Big Ten Tournament for the second straight year. He sure as hell made sure of it.
The redshirt sophomore forward finished with a game-high 26 points on 11-for-18 shooting, grabbed a team-high eight rebounds and pitched in three blocks to boot. More importantly, Wilson seemed to put his stamp on the game when Michigan needed him most, ultimately leading Michigan to its 74-70 overtime victory against No. 13 Purdue.
“He was hoopin’, he was absolutely hoopin’,” Lonergan said. “DJ’s — you’ve seen it before out of him — he’s a hell of a player. I think that’s what makes this team special. I think you’ve seen it … each and every one of them is capable of having a really big game.
“… I think that’s what makes us really hard to stop because you’ve got to play with five guys every single night who are capable of making big time plays. Today happened to be DJ’s day, he seized the moment and took care of business.”
And without him, the Wolverines would have been back in Ann Arbor by Thursday night.
With 4.2 seconds remaining in regulation, Michigan had knotted the game at 66 behind Irvin’s layup. Purdue was taking the ball out from underneath its basket. It felt like déjà vu all over again.
Just nine days prior, the Wolverines had traveled to Evanston only to have their hearts broken by Dererk Pardon’s buzzer-beating layup. Wilson was one of the men who had a chance to stop it, coming inches away from pinning Pardon’s shot to the backboard. Those inches became the difference between an opportunity in overtime and a long trip back to Ann Arbor.
So when Purdue managed to push the ball up the court and forward Vince Edwards caught the ball on the left wing and pulled up from beyond the arc, it felt like a cruel twist of fate was about to befall Michigan for the second time in just over a week.
But Wilson made sure that wasn’t going to happen, at least, not today. He managed to tip Edwards’ shot, notching his third block of the day and simultaneously giving the Wolverines an overtime period during which they would ultimately win the game.
“It’s kind of a 50-50 play,” said senior forward Mark Donnal. “He’s got the length to be able to disrupt anybody’s shot. Fortunately, he was at the good end of it and he was able to tip it into the air and force overtime.”
Michigan would have never been in the situation of losing on a final shot if not for Wilson either.
Just over four minutes into the game, Michigan’s big man had already grabbed two of his final three offensive rebounds and finished the half with a game-high 18 points. Ten of those 18 came during an unanswered scoring run with 4:18 left in the first half, prior to which Purdue was threatening to pull away and held a nine-point lead — its largest of the game.
With Wagner logging just four minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, Wilson’s effort kept the Wolverines far away from falling into what could have been an insurmountable hole — entering the break with a one-point lead.
Though Wilson scored just eight points in the second half, they all came at the right time for Michigan, as he was the only Wolverine — until Irvin’s game-tying bucket — to score from the field in the final 7:21, and that doesn’t even account for his defensive performance. With Wagner’s foul trouble persisting in the second half, Wilson was left as the sole rim protector.
Though Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas combined for 30 points on 12-for-23 shooting, Wilson helped hold them to just eight in the second frame before capping it off with his block.
Billy Donlon wrote “Not today” on the wall. DJ Wilson made sure the cost of a new paint job was worth it.
“He’s a big fan of his writing on walls and knowing that it can’t come off,” Wilson said. “I don’t how he’s gonna get that off or who’s gonna pay for it, but that’s on him. … I’m not opposed to it. It gets us Ws.”