After Michigan’s 64-63 escape
against Purdue on Saturday, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker
didn’t want to focus on the team’s 10-minute scoring
drought in the second half.

Kate Green

“I’m proud of our guys for winning this game,”
Amaker said. “I think that if we’d have said we were
going to win by one before the game started, we wouldn’t care
how we got there.”

And why should he dwell on the dry spell?

The must for the Wolverines on Saturday was getting a win, not
necessarily scoring consistently.

True, Michigan probably can’t expect to get too far toward
any of its goals for the season if it goes through periods of
ineptitude every night. In half of its conference games, the team
has gone at least five minutes without more than a couple of
points. Once the Wolverines got up by 16, you would have hoped that
would have been lights out for Purdue. But the Wolverines
definitely can’t reach their goals if they let those
stretches be their demise.

That didn’t happen yesterday. Instead, Michigan got a big
win. One they had to have.

Forget the final margin. The Wolverines needed to defend their
home floor. Even if they do take a game on the road from Minnesota
on Wednesday, it’d be hard to make the NCAA tournament
without beating a few of the good teams in the conference.

Wins against Penn State and Northwestern were necessary. But
they wouldn’t be considered quality victories, even with the
Wildcats’ win over Wisconsin Saturday. Iowa has been solid,
with a 5-4 record in the conference. But one decent win over the
Hawkeyes doesn’t make for a strong resume.

Purdue is a tournament-caliber team. Granted, it was missing
Kenneth Lowe, its leading scorer. But the Boilermakers are still
hard-nosed and smart. Their 15-point win at Penn State without
their senior earlier this week is proof enough of that. They
haven’t won 15 games with Lowe alone.

The Boilermakers played well to get themselves back in the game
Saturday. They stole the momentum with some of the slap-the-floor
pressure defense that they’re known for. The zone that they
mixed in seemed to catch the Wolverines off-guard.

“I thought you saw their experience and their toughness,
just fighting back one possession at a time, putting us on our
heels,” Amaker said.

But Purdue didn’t do the little things when it
counted.

“For us to be a team that’s going to win these type
of games, (we’ve) got to be able to get loose balls and get
rebounds,” Purdue coach Gene Keady said.

The Wolverines, meanwhile, did do those things.

They truly crashed the offensive glass — 16 times for
those keeping score at home. Clearly, none bigger than Courtney
Sims’ two follows at the end.

They ripped 15 turnovers from Purdue, which hadn’t given
it up more than 10 times in any of its last six games.

And most importantly, they snatched the momentum back when it
really counted, even after they didn’t convert at the charity
stripe.

“We didn’t wilt down the stretch,” Amaker
said. “We had to make big plays and we did.”

Guard Daniel Horton, who never seems to be fazed by any type of
offensive woes, was the catalyst. He buried a three-ball to end the
Michigan drought and break a 57-57 tie.

A few possessions later, he hit a runner in the lane to give his
team another three-point lead with less than a minute left.

After some misses at the foul line kept Purdue in it, Horton set
up Sims’s final shots by ferociously driving the ball the
length of the court through a scrambling defense. He even knocked
away the final pass to seal the deal as time expired.

“To go 10 minutes without a field goal, that’s not
good,” Horton said. “But I think we showed a lot of
character and heart by being able to battle back and still win the
game.”

The Wolverines have to find ways to avoid droughts, or as Horton
described it, to “toughen up a little bit.” A 16-point
lead should be safe — especially at home.

But if they hadn’t pulled the game out against Purdue
yesterday, any effort to stop the droughts wouldn’t have
mattered.

Thunder Dan Rosen can be reached at
“mailto:danielsr@umich.edu”>danielsr@umich.edu.

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