By Gennaro Filice
Daily Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – When asked to name the difference between her team’s blowout win on Thursday and the season-ending loss on Friday, Michigan forward Jennifer Smith gave a very simple, but precise answer.
“We didn’t put the ball in the hole tonight.”
Just 24 hours after blowing out No. 6 seed Illinois 83-59 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, the 11th-seeded Wolverines (3-13 Big Ten, 14-17 overall) saw their season come to an abrupt close in a 72-50 loss to No. 3 seed Purdue (12-4, 25-5). As evidenced by Smith’s straightforward quote, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what went wrong for the Maize and Blue.
“We scored 83 points yesterday and struggled to score 50 points tonight,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “It’s what has haunted us all season. We have been inconsistent from one game to the next.”
The Wolverines shot a dismal 31.3 percent from the field, and at one point in the second half, went 6:33 without converting a field goal.
“Purdue played good defense,” Smith said. “They sagged in the low post. They did a nice job defensively.”
The Michigan front line flourished in Thursday’s win, utilizing a low post-oriented high-low attack. But on Friday, the Boilermakers overcrowded the paint, and interrupted Michigan’s offensive flow. Although Smith led the Wolverines with 15 points, Michigan’s other post players were ineffective, scoring a meager seven points combined.
“They really packed it in,” said Smith. “They had at least two players defending the low post every time.”
In order to unclog the heavily defended post, the Michigan guards had to hit a few outside shots, and force the Purdue defense to extend. Unfortunately, the Wolverine backcourt never found a rhythm, going 5-for-19 from the field.
Defensively, Michigan could not stop Purdue’s well-rounded offense. From the perimeter, Boilermaker guard Erika Valek shredded the Wolverines with a game-high 19 points. Purdue nailed seven threes, including three by Valek. But what caught Guevara’s eye was center Mary Jo Noon, who recorded 12 points and eight rebounds.
“She did a nice job getting us in the low post,” Guevara said. “We were successful the last time we defended her. This time she did a nice job of using her body in scoring.”
Noon stands at an opposing 6-foot-5, and used her brute size to dominate Michigan on the interior.
“It was very physical (in the post),” Guevara said. “If you looked at Jennifer Smith, she got the tar kicked our of her, and she got tired because it was so physical.”
The loss marks the fourth straight year that Purdue has eliminated Michigan from the Big Ten Tournament.
Although it is Guevara’s first losing season at Michigan, she remains optimistic and looks forward to next year.
“The good thing about (finishing with a losing record) is that with the players that are coming back, they certainly understand the toughness that we have to have, how much better we have to be as far as being consistent and scoring and how much they have to work on their games in the offseason,” Guevara said.