ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan never trailed against No. 14 Purdue Saturday, but John Beilein’s team needed a late, off-balanced 3-point shot from senior Derrick Walton Jr. and some steady free-throw shooting over the final 74 seconds to close out an 82-70 win at Crisler Center.
It was Senior Day for the Wolverines, and Walton was at his best in his final home appearance, scoring 17 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and handing out five assists without a turnover.
Michigan (19-10, 9-7 Big Ten) assured itself of at least a .500 record in the Big Ten and still has a shot at finishing in the top four of the conference. That would earn the Wolverines a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament, which begins on March 8 in Washington, D.C.
Sophomore Moritz Wagner scored a career-high 24 points, 22 of which came in the first half as Michigan built a 45-30 lead. Wagner picked up two fouls in the first four minutes of the second half and didn’t return to the game until 6:47 remained. The Wolverines shot 54.5 percent from the field as a team, and made 11 of 26 3-pointers (42.3 percent). They also made all 11 free throws they attempted, including six straight in a span of 29 seconds to finish up their scoring.
Purdue (23-6, 12-4) entered the game No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 5 in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage (41.3), while making a Big Ten-best 9.4 3-pointers per game. Michigan’s defense limited the Boilermakers to 31.3 percent shooting from behind the arc and just 5 made 3-pointers.
Here’s what Beilein had to say after the game:
“I’m really excited for our team, for our program, to be able to beat a really good team like Purdue the way we beat them. We played really good defense in the first half. I think they’d made one more 3 than us in the league. They shoot them in volume like we do, and they make them, and they’re better at it. We had to try everything we could to try and take it away from them. In the first half, we did a great job of defending that. And Moritz’s four 3s were a big difference-maker.
“To pound the ball into the post is very difficult with the likes of (Isaac) Haas and (Caleb) Swanigan. It compromises the areas we try to work at, so we tried to spread them out. If we don’t make those 3s, we’re probably down here thinking we shot too many 3s. Some days you’ve got to pick it, you’ve got to do it, and hopefully it works well enough for you.
“Really good team in Purdue. I stand by it, I think they can win the Big Ten Tournament, I think they can make a long run in the NCAA Tournament. I think they’ve got a lot of elements, and if they’re like some of the good teams we’ve had, a loss this time of the year after they won five in a row isn’t the worst thing in the world.”
On the play of Michigan’s seniors
On play of Wagner on the defensive end
“There’s still moments on defense, but he understands it. A lot of credit to (assistant coaches) Saddi (Washington) and Bill Donlon on that. They’ve done a great job. He’s committed to do whatever it takes to help us win.”
On win over Purdue and how it helps NCAA Tournament resume
“It’s the same formula as forever: You’ve got to beat Top-50 teams, Top-25 (teams) or better, and then you’ve got to win some games on the road.”
“I don’t ever want to pretend to be the committee. We’ve just got to continue to try to win games the best we can.”
On Walton’s Senior Day being the kind he deserved
“He was strong tonight in so many ways. Running our team, the rebounds, five assists, no turnovers. He’s really become the kind of guard he wanted to be and that we wanted him to be. It’s not that he’s been bad in between. It’s just that he’s such a great, unselfish player, it’s always about the team. I think he convinced himself that it’s about the team, that I need to do more.”
On still having work to be done the last week of the season
“I think they know. You just have to spend a film session with me to know that they know they haven’t punched any ticket. There’s a lot of work to do. You don’t know what can happen down the stretch here with teams that are trying to get in there. Everybody’s got a couple games to go, and everybody’s got a tournament to go. We have a great opportunity to build our resume more by going on the road and beating two good teams (Northwestern and Nebraska) that haven’t lost on the road.”