It was just a month ago that Michigan coach Tommy Amaker sat all five of his usual starters for a late December game against Army.
Slow starts to halves were the reason for the demotion.
After their performance on Saturday, starting off strong should no longer be a problem for the Michigan men’s basketball team.
The Wolverines used a huge spurt to begin the second half, and pulled away from Purdue for a much-needed 71-55 win.
The victory gives Michigan a 4-1 start to Big Ten conference play, leaving the team in a tie for second place alongside Ohio State and Indiana.
The Maize and Blue entered halftime with a two-point lead due in large part to a 13-4 surge to begin the game. Following a quick turnover and subsequent basket by Boilermaker senior David Teague to begin the second half, the Wolverines’ offense and defense began clicking on all cylinders.
The 28-10 run that ensued featured some of the expected and unexpected for Michigan (4-1 Big Ten, 16-4 overall).
Senior Dion Harris was his usual-consistent self, scoring 13 points – including three 3-pointers – and dishing out three assists during the run. In the process he ignited the Crisler Arena crowd after feeding senior Brent Petway for several rim-rattling dunks.
“The coaches told me that I haven’t been particularly aggressive,” Harris said. “I was doing a lot of standing around early on. I started to move around and really hunt shots and my teammates were finding me.”
For the afternoon, Harris had a game-high 21 points and was a solid 5-of-7 from beyond the arc.
But the run wouldn’t have been so substantial if it weren’t for some timely production courtesy of sophomore Jerret Smith. The Romulus native played perhaps the best game of his career, racking up 11 points to go along with seven assists and six rebounds. He capped off the surge with a pull-up jump shot on the fast break giving Michigan a 53-35 lead that it would never relinquish.
After shooting just 36 percent from the field in the first half, the Wolverines were on fire throughout the second half. The team shot over 68 percent from the field to finish the game at a 51 percent clip.
Along the way, the Wolverines’ renewed defensive intensity held Purdue to just over 33 percent shooting for the game.
“I credit our defense,” Amaker said. “(Purdue) probably missed some shots that they are normally going to make, but I’d like to think we did a sound job defensively. We played hard defensively and that’s the way we’ve been playing for most of the year.”
This was the second time in seven days that the Boilermakers and Wolverines faced each other.
Just one week earlier, Purdue (2-4, 13-7) toppled Michigan 67-53 in West Lafayette.
In that game, the Boilermakers relied on the fifth-year senior duo of Teague and forward Carl Landry. Each scored more than 20 points.
But this time around, the Wolverines contained Purdue’s stars. Each had 15 points, but were consistently denied the ball or forced to take a tough shot. Teague shot a woeful 6-of-15 from the field, while Landry was held to just nine shot attempts.
Afterward, senior Courtney Sims was praised for his effort defending Landry.
“(Courtney) did a great job defending,” Petway said. “He wasn’t thinking about his offense, which was really unselfish on his part.”
The victory gives Michigan a 4-1 start to Big Ten conference play, leaving it in a tie for second place alongside Ohio State and Indiana.
Purdue has now lost 29 straight road games, a streak that spans over three seasons.
And with road games against Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio State looming in the next two weeks, a win over the Boilermakers was essential for the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament chances.
“The season is going real fast,” Harris said. “I think we all realized that we have to play with a purpose. The main thing is we’re having fun, and anytime a team is having fun, the results are going to be better.”