Derrick Walton played perhaps the best game of his career [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
Michigan fans worried about a sloppy, letdown performance after the Wolverines emerged unscathed from a brutal three-game stretch had a portion of their worst fears realized. They committed an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers tonight, including gaffes on three straight first-half possessions to give Purdue a brief one-point edge.
That didn't last long, however, as the home team simply couldn't miss against a porous Boilermakers defense. The final numbers: 21/33 from two and 7/13 from three for a remarkable 68.5 eFG%. Purdue managed to win the turnover and rebounding battles but few teams could've kept pace with Michigan's shooting this evening.
"We did just a wonderful job of getting good shots and doing just enough to win," said John Beilein in the postgame radio interview, and he may have been understating matters.
The backcourt essentially called their own shots all night. Nik Stauskas scored 16 points on 5/10 FGs, including an explosive blow-by reverse layup late in the first half and a couple now-signature pull-up jumpers in the second. Caris LeVert recorded his first career double-double with 14 points (5/11 FG), 11 rebounds, two assists, three steals, and two blocks; his highlights included a LeBron-esque jump stop layup plus the foul and a coast-to-coast layup off his own steal.
Then there was Derrick Walton, who built upon his career-high 19 points against Michigan State with a 14-point effort on just seven shots, of which he missed one, while also chipping in three assists and two steals. He looked more confident than ever working the pick and roll, getting to the basket routinely—big man butterfingers robbed him of a couple more assists. After AJ Hammons committed a lane violation on the front end of a one-and-one with three seconds left in the first half, Walton made Purdue pay dearly by covering the length of the court—splitting two defenders in the process—and finishing at the buzzer before Hammons could react to give Michigan a six-point halftime lead.
LeVert [left, Upchurch] and Stauskas [right, Fuller] both got whatever they wanted offensively.
By the second half, it seemed like Michigan's players were trying to one-up each other's plays. Walton dove into the lane and suddenly scooped a pass to a trailing Jordan Morgan, who finished with a layup for two of his 11 points. LeVert followed with his Olympic long jump tryout. Stauskas knocked down a heavily contested jumper from the stripe. Jon Horford worked his way into the paint and hit a turnaround fade away for two of his four points on the night. Zak Irvin responded to a Hammons dunk with a nothing-but-net triple from the wing.
Even though Michigan never played fully within themselves—the split their 16 turnovers evenly between the first and second halves—their ability to create and make good shots* was on full display. They were lucky that their worst turnover performance of the season by both rate and number came against an overmatched opponent; at the same time, it's tough to complain when they still managed to score 1.17 points per possession.
Caris LeVert made up for his four turnovers with some impressive transition defense, including two blocks (though Purdue recovered for a putback after one) and a clean strip that forced the Boilermakers to take the ball out of bounds after a two-on-one break. He used his length exceptionally on both ends in this one, consistently getting his hands on the ball whether it was in an opponent's hands or caroming off the rim.
Glenn Robinson III was a relative non-factor as the only starter to not score in double digits, finishing with eight points on six shots—though he did hit his first three-pointer since January 14th—and three rebounds in 36 minutes. He managed to get to the rim off a nice jab-step in an isolation situation, however, which was a good sign after a couple games in which he created very little in the halfcourt.
Spike Albrecht only played seven minutes due to Walton's superb outing, especially since Walton also played exceptional on-ball defense in this one, holding Terone Johnson to just four points (2/6 FG) and two assists to two turnovers. Spike made the most of his limited time, however, hitting his first layup in Big Ten play and draining a three-pointer on his only attempts.
The defense played well as a unit, forcing Hammons to work hard for his 16 points (7/14 FG), and the combination of Morgan and Horford limited him to just one offensive rebound; the guards contributed some nice help defense on him from the weak side, especially in the first half. (Nik Stauskas had three blocks all on this type of action if memory serves.) The team had issues boxing out, however, as Purdue rebounded 16 of their 37 misses (39%); while that's Purdue's M.O., it was still a weak area in an otherwise strong defensive performance.
*In Stauskas' case, just about any shot is a good shot.