Remember when Michigan scored 119 points combined against Norfolk State and Holy Cross, shooting 20 percent from downtown?
That was just three weeks ago. It certainly didn’t feel that recent Saturday against Purdue.
In a dizzying first 10 minutes of basketball, the seventh-ranked Wolverines (8-0 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) hit six of their first seven 3-pointers to take a 31-16 lead, setting the nets, and Crisler Center, ablaze. That early stretch of dominance was all Michigan needed, as it ran away with a 76-57 win over the 19th-ranked Boilermakers (5-3, 0-1) in its first Big Ten game of the season.
The dominance started in earnest two minutes into the game. Sophomore guard Jordan Poole took a Charles Matthews pass on the right wing, stepped into his shot and drained a wide-open three. Matthews, a redshirt junior wing, hit one of his own on the next possession, and two minutes after that, Poole took a couple jab-steps and confidently drilled a trey right in the face of 7-foot-3 center Matt Haarms to give the Wolverines a 16-7 lead.
“If I hit one, I definitely feel like I’m hot,” Poole said. “But then I hit another one and I’m like, ‘Alright, well, I’m definitely extremely hot right now, let me try to get up another one.’ ”
The Boilermakers’ switch-happy defense was no match for Michigan in the early going. With 12:40 to play in the first half, junior point guard Zavier Simpson drove past Haarms for an easy layup, and kicked out of drives to find Poole and Matthews for wide-open 3-pointers.
“They switched everything we did,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “So the best thing when you get in those situations, is get downhill when their big guy steps out to guard, get downhill. And we used the alleys really to get penetration and find other people.”
A possession after Matthews’ trey, junior center Jon Teske provided the hammer blow to cap off the initial outburst, catching Matthews’ over-the-shoulder lob and thundering down an alley-oop on the Boilermakers’ Ryan Cline.
As the Wolverines made it rain, Purdue could only manage to stay afloat. Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Carsen Edwards — averaging 25.3 points per game heading into the contest — scored 19 but had to fight for everything against the fierce defense of Simpson, making just seven of 21 mostly challenging looks.
“Carsen got his a little bit, but he was, I think 1-of-5 from three, and he was averaging like five or six,” Teske said. “And Cline had three in the first half, and I think Charles wore him down in the second half. It just starts with (assistant coach Luke Yaklich), and it trickles down to Charles and (Simpson) and the whole team just kind of follows them.”
Purdue hung somewhat within reach, though, and continued to chip away at the lead throughout the game. Michigan suffered through a five-minute scoring drought midway through the second half, and with 6:55 to play, Boilermaker guard Aaron Wheeler’s 3-pointer cut the deficit to 62-50.
The Wolverines needed a response, and a response they got. Appropriately enough for an afternoon where seemingly everyone was on fire, Teske — 1-for-10 from deep coming into Saturday — hit two free throws and then a pick-and-pop three, his second of the game, to push the lead back to 17.
“It was ready to go the other way,” Beilein said. “If they had gotten it lower than that it would have been tough, because we were not able to score the ball. So I think probably getting those stops when they got it to 12, and then … Jon made the two foul shots and then hit a three, that probably was (the turning point) because five minutes to go, a 12-point lead against those guys is nothing.”
Twenty-three seconds later, Poole canned his fifth trey, which just about put the contest to bed.
“We’re just confident,” Poole said. “We practice in-game situation threes and we run our plays and we know how the looks that we’re going to get. … Being able to knock down those shots from the ‘1’ to the ‘5’ is definitely huge for us.”
Poole had the hot hand from the start, scoring 21 points and drilling all five of his attempts from outside. Matthews (nine points), Teske (17), and freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis (14) chipped in with three, two and two, respectively, while Simpson ran the offense efficiently once again with seven assists to only one turnover. As a team, Michigan was 13 for 26 from 3-point range.
“They can beat you in the nineties, I think they can beat you in the sixties, and I think they can do it against quality people,” said Purdue coach Matt Painter. “So it just depends on how they’re flowing.”
On Saturday, the Wolverines were flowing as well as they’ve done all season. That meant trouble for the Boilermakers — and with a Michigan offense that’s finally catching up to its defense, it means trouble for the rest of the Big Ten.