BIG NASTY. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Four wins. Four days. A trophy.
For the second straight year, Michigan pulled off the improbable and ran through the best the Big Ten had to offer for a conference tournament championship. They sealed it this evening by running away from Purdue, which never held a lead after the game's opening three minutes. The big, bad Boilermakers could only stay at arm's length, then the Wolverines laid the hammer down in an incredible second half only marred by some late free-throw trouble that never put the outcome in serious doubt.
Just about everything John Beilein touched turned to gold; he outdueled Purdue's Matt Painter in what's been the Big Ten's most intricately fascinating coaching matchup the last two years. Painter chose to hedge hard against the ballhandler on high screens in the first half; while Michigan went 3-for-11 on mostly wide-open threes, they drew Purdue's towering big men far from the hoop—the Wolverines went 13-for-19 inside the arc and didn't have a shot blocked or commit a turnover.
Much of that was due to the stellar play of Jon Teske, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the first-half minutes after Beilein gave Wagner the usual break following his first foul. Teske was a force on both ends and Beilein let him ride for 12 first-half minutes. Teske rewarded his coach's faith with dunks off the pick-and-roll, increasingly lengthy midrange shots off the pick-and-pop, a thunderous block, and a stellar late defensive posseession on an otherwise dominant Isaac Haas, who picked up a cheap frustration foul in response.
"I really have no words to explain," said Teske.
Big lights. Little dude. Huge buckets. [Campredon]
Zavier Simpson was masterful on both ends as well. His chemistry with Teske created multiple open baskets. He got the hoop with regularity and finished. When Purdue overplayed him on screens, he generated wide open looks for Michigan's shooters. He played lockdown defense on Purdue's best perimeter player, Carsen Edwards, who went only 3-for-9 in the first half.
"He's a pit bull," said Beilein. "We have a picture of a big, mean pit bull in our locker room for every game. And he is that guy. He's one that loves to play defense."
"Muhammad and I just wanted to come out and set the tone," said Simpson. "We wanted to play great defense from the start so our energy could be contagious. And as you've seen, others followed."
While the Wovlerines went into the break up 38-33, however, it felt like they'd missed a golden opportunity to blow the game open. The announcers, and most everyone else, felt a tight finish coming.
That did not happen. Painter chose not to continue playing with fire on screens, switching them to prevent open looks instead of sticking with the aggressive hedging approach. After a few forced shots over Haas, Simpson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman ruthlessly attacked the basket, combining for 15 second-half points and five assists.
"It takes a long time to sort of build up the substance to your team that can persevere and just won't give in," said Beilein. "They won't give in to fatigue. They won't give in to momentum changes. They just stick in there."
"You always learn something when you play them," said Painter. "And you fix something. As a coach you think you've got them figured out, you don't have them figured out."
Wagner was all smiles in the second half. [Campredon]
Moe Wagner, with his mother watching from the stands, removed any doubt of the outcome. His 4-for-5 second-half performance featured a Dirk-like turnaround fallaway three as the shot clock expired, a blow-by layup, and another triple right in the grill of Matt Haarms. He did more than just score; he led the break after a steal then hit a trailing MAAR for a big three, and he battled hard on the boards, helping M limit Purdue to three offensive rebounds after they'd pulled down seven in the first half.
"Those guards are good but not everybody has a guy like Wagner that can stick 3s, drive the ball, and play with passion," said Painter.
Then Duncan Robinson got a thunderblock on Carsen Edwards and Zavier Simpson slipped a beautiful pass to Teske for a posterizing dunk on Haas, and the party was on. Michigan stretched the lead as far as 18 before a too-little, too-late Purdue run got them as close as seven while the Wolverines scuffled at the charity stripe. That's a concern for later.
For now, Michigan is once again on a tear heading into the NCAA Tournament, and today's championship may well have locked up a three-seed. John Beilein is a wizard.
Back-to-back champs. [Campredon]
[Hit THE JUMP for more photos and the box score.]