WASHINGTON — A small photo of a hacked-off pit bull at the end of a chain, growling silently, hung from a dry-erase board that faced the players inside the Michigan locker room.
It quickly was removed as reporters swarmed the place in the wake of the Wolverines’ 74-70 overtime upset of No. 13 Purdue at the Big Ten Tournament on Friday, but the point was clear. Assistant coach Billy Donlon’s contribution to the pregame motivational ritual, though, was about 8 feet off the ground and a bit harder to get rid of:
— Sean Keeler (@SeanKeeler) March 10, 2017
“He touched on how they knocked us out of the Big Ten Tournament [last year],” Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said, grinning at the graffiti scribbled on the wall above. “So [we said], ‘Not today. Not today.’ ”
Like his teammates, Wilson, a 6-foot-10 forward with the wingspan (7-1) to play the 5 position and the range to play a stretch 4 (.381 on 3-pointers), took the floor Friday in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals as if the Boilermakers (25-7) had stolen not only his lunch money but also that of about six immediate family members.
The California native went into rampage mode early and often, netting a team-high 26 points and 8 rebounds, personally rallying the eighth-seeded Wolverines (22-11) from a 9-point deficit late in the first half while helping to make things hell on the league’s best frontcourt duo of Caleb Swanigan (13 points on 5-of-13 shooting) and Isaac Haas (17 points, 1-of-4 from the free throw line).
“Once I got going and coach [John Beilein] drew up some plays for me — we didn’t know, really, how they were going to guard us,” said Wilson, who netted 9 points and managed 1 board the last time these teams met on Feb. 25. “Moe [Wagner] got in foul trouble, I switched over to a 5, and it took off from there.”
Actually, it took off like a ballistic missile. With Michigan down 32-23, the junior scored 10 points on four consecutive possessions during the next 2 minutes, 7 seconds, shaving the Boilermakers’ lead to 34-33 with 2:18 left in the first half.
“Yeah, I’ve seen it before, but in practice, obviously,” teammate Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said of Wilson’s outburst. “But he’s a good player. He’s so versatile on both ends of the floor, and he’s a mismatch nightmare for a lot of guys out there, and we’re just happy to have him.”
And yet, No. 5’s No. 1 moment might’ve come on the defensive end, in desperation, with 2 seconds left in regulation and the score tied at 66. Swanigan left Wilson to set a killer screen just past midcourt that would free up Boilermakers guard Carsen Edwards charging up the sideline.
But the gambit also left Wilson alone, looking for someone to guard, so he descended upon Edwards, paw extended high, as the Purdue shooter set up on the top left elbow of the 3-point arc. The Michigan forward managed to get his fingers on the ball, deflecting the attempt as the clock expired:
D.J. Wilson game saving block end of regulation as D.J. Chait and Richard L. watch pic.twitter.com/flBfwPC3Gk
— David J. Chait (@DavidJChait) March 10, 2017
“It’s kind of a 50-50 play,” Michigan forward Mark Donnal said. “He’s got the length to be able to disrupt anybody’s shot. And, fortunately, he gets on the good end of it and was able to tip it in the air.”
Like the man said: Not today.
“I don’t know how they’re going to get that off,” Wilson said, grinning again at his coach’s messy handiwork. “That’s on [Donlon]. I don’t know. It gets us wins, so I’m not tripping.”