Don”t blink, Michigan fans.
Believe what you see: Michigan is tied with Indiana and Ohio State for first place in the Big Ten. After defeating Purdue at Crisler on Saturday 79-75, the Wolverines improved to 2-0 in the conference, the first time they have boasted that record in four years. The Boilermakers provided an entertaining match in the home opener, battling in what Michigan coach Tommy Amaker described as “a fight to the finish.”
Trailing by 10 with 3:34 remaining, Purdue forward Darmetreis Kilgore sank back-to-back 3-pointers. What followed was a magnificent end to a career day for Michigan”s go-to guy, Bernard Robinson. The sophomore responded immediately to the Kilgoreian-led push by scoring eight of the Wolverines” final 10 points, en route to a 20-point afternoon. The highlight of his performance was a one-handed runner in the lane that put Michigan up by five with 22 seconds remaining.
He rounded out the game by snagging seven rebounds, dishing a career-high six assists and notching his first blocked shot of the season.
“His overall performance was outstanding,” Amaker said of Robinson”s game. “It”s nice to see him be aggressive and attacking.”
That aggressiveness was most useful in the first half, as Michigan rallied to overcome an early Purdue lead. The Boilermakers jumped up 7-0 on the strength of easy fast break points and post scoring. But Michigan responded with a balanced offensive attack, which benefited from smart ball movement and sharp perimeter shooting.
Most of all, it was the aggressive heads-up defense of Robinson and point guard Avery Queen that gave Michigan some momentum on both sides of the floor. The two combined for four steals in the first half, and the Wolverines capitalized with nine first-half points off turnovers.
“We just sat down and we decided not to let them score,” senior tri-captain Chris Young said. “We”re going to stick to our defensive principles and play our defensive game and create some turnovers, which turned into points on the offensive end.”
The Wolverines first half effort was aided by freshmen Dommanic Ingerson and Chuck Bailey, who had a combined 10 points and four rebounds in 17 minutes. They were all but absent from the floor in the second half, however, as Amaker utilized his vets to hold on to the lead down the stretch.
Junior Gavin Groninger was crucial in the win. He converted both free throws with 13 seconds left to give Michigan a four-point lead and put the game out of reach.
“In conference play, we”re going to rely on our veterans,” Amaker said.
Despite the late push by the Boilermakers and a shouting match between Purdue head coach Gene Keady and Groninger as the game became tense, the Wolverines emerged in a position where few expected them to be. But everyone around the program is excited that they”re there.
“To be 2-0 and have some confidence is really important for our young team,” Amaker said.
The first win came on Jan.2, against Penn State in State College.
“A lot of people don”t understand how much a victory like that can give you confidence going into the next game,” Robinson said. “Hopefully we can keep it going.”