WEST LAFAYETTE – With less than three minutes remaining in the game, the Michigan men’s basketball team came within three points on three separate occasions.
And for the third straight contest, the Wolverines’ best wasn’t good enough.
Michigan fell to Purdue, 65-58, Saturday, and lost its eighth game in the last nine.
“We definitely see an improvement because we’re getting better,” sophomore DeShawn Sims said. “We hung in there longer than we ever have before, and it’s just going to be that way. It’s not going to be like this every game, but we just grow from this.”
While the only thing that seems to be growing is the loss column, Michigan put forth its best road effort this year. Facing a 14-point halftime deficit, the Wolverines stormed out of the gate in the second frame.
Sims opened the scoring with a baby hook. Then redshirt junior C.J. Lee deflected a Boilermaker pass into Sims’s hands and got the ball back for an easy breakaway layup to cut the Purdue lead to 10, 34-24.
Four Manny Harris points later and Michigan’s 14-point deficit was six points just two minutes into the half.
“I think our kids at halftime were a little bit in shock,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “There wasn’t any Knute Rockne stuff going on at halftime but (I said), ‘We’re better than this.’ . All of a sudden we get two and it’s contagious and that’s what really makes things go.”
Harris scored 15 of his game and career-high 25 points in the second half. The Detroit native was all over the court, driving aggressively to the basket and pulling up quickly for long jumpers.
Sims also contributed in a big way in the second half. He scored 11 of his 15 points in the second frame.
The duo’s play kept Michigan (4-10 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) in the game late.
With more than two minutes remaining, Sims collected Kelvin Grady’s missed shot and made a tough basket while drawing a foul. He completed the 3-point play to pull Michigan within three.
Following a Purdue (10-4, 1-0) bucket, Harris made the Wolverines’ deficit three again, 56-53, on a jumper over strong defense.
The freshman notched his final two points of the game on a pair of free throws with 43 seconds left which made the score 58-55. Michigan failed to pull any closer.
The Wolverines might have fared better without such a poor first half. Terrible shooting (29 percent) plagued the team again. Purdue disrupted Michigan’s rhythm with man-to-man defense.
During one 10-minute stretch, the Wolverines failed to convert a field goal. Making matters worse, just as the Wolverines ended their scoreless streak, the Boilermakers’ Keaton Grant began one.
Grant hit triples on three consecutive possessions from the same spot near the end of the first half. Following his third basket, Grant let out a victorious scream as the crowd erupted in approval.
“We knew he was shooting and hitting threes,” Beilein said. “We left him open. . We got kids who have a two-second delay (to defend) and with a guy like Grant you can’t have a one-second delay.”
The wild scene in Mackey Arena showed how agonizing the Wolverines’ growing pains will be this season regardless of the progress the team makes. It still appears that improvement will be just another word for loss.