WEST LAFAYETTE — For the second year in a row, the Michigan men’s basketball team was dealt a tough hand.
For the second year in a row, the Wolverines had to defy all logic and steal a game at Purdue without their best player.
For the second year in a row, logic prevailed, as Michigan fell 69-59 to the Boilermakers on Saturday.
Without junior swingman and Big Ten leading scorer Manny Harris, Michigan (3-4 Big Ten, 10-9 overall) went away early and quietly at Mackey Arena. Due to an incident of “unsportsmanlike conduct” at Friday’s practice, according to an Athletic Department press release, the Detroit native was suspended for the game — and possibly longer, pending what players and Michigan coach John Beilein have called a team decision.
With no one on the roster to provide dribble-penetration, Michigan went almost exclusively to senior forward DeShawn Sims in the post. Sims kept the Wolverines in the game all by himself, scoring the team’s first 13 points and weaving his way around Purdue center JaJaun Johnson for baskets.
“We were all — I wouldn’t say looking forward to the challenge — but we knew we had something to pick up,” sophomore Zack Novak said. “Everybody knew that they were going to have to bring something extra today.”
But Sims proved to be the only one providing it. The rest of the team made just four of 10 shots in the first half as the Boilermakers piled on the points. Purdue juniors Robbie Hummel, E’Twuan Moore and Johnson combined for 37 points on 16-of-25 shooting in the first frame. The Boilermakers tallied 13 assists in that span, easily working around the Wolverines’ defensive packages and cutting to the rim for layups.
“We just had trouble with how efficient they are on offense,” Beilein said of Purdue’s 22-5 run in the first half that blew the game open. “There’s not a whole lot of people that can even come here and get 60 points (to keep up).”
And with Purdue throwing extra defenders at Sims to disrupt him in the post, Michigan’s four-guard lineup — without Harris — looked helpless. The Wolverines turned the ball over nine times in the first half, which helped Purdue generate 10 more shot attempts.
“They’re so stingy,” Beilein said. “You can call whatever you want in the huddle, and they’re going to make you run something else. So countering and reading it and doing things like that very quickly. Very experienced players can do it, and we had trouble with it.
“You really have to have great experience to be able to handle that.”
Novak said the Wolverines’ first-half turnovers were the difference in the game, and that the team had a lot of problems against a defense so fiercely dedicated to “pass denial.” Even simple fundamentals like reversing the ball around the perimeter looked at times like a chore.
Purdue’s lead swelled to as many as 27 points in the second half before Michigan took advantage of the Boilermakers’ reserves and closed the gap to 10 in the final score. The team saw some silver lining in the fact that role players like redshirt-junior Anthony Wright and freshman Matt Vogrich saw extended time.
In the context of a puzzling season growing dimmer for the Wolverines with each loss, the team tried to muster up some shreds of optimism after its latest setback.
“This is definitely a game we can grow from, because it gives people a lot of valuable time,” Novak said. “Give them credit. Guys from the bench fought back, and we didn’t just roll over and die.”
But in the end, the post-game focus was on Harris, who had played in all 85 career games before staying behind when the team traveled to Purdue. With no one to slash to the basket or snag an offensive rebound, the Wolverines were overmatched.
Asked about the incident that led to Harris’s suspension, Beilein told reporters to refer to his Athletic Depertment statement.