The best player in the nation is in this picture. - Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports
The Wolverines took on the dangerous Boilermakers at Mackey Arena in what was a true, must-win game. Despite seemingly being down for the count, Trey Burke once again saved Michigan in the second half, while his teammates helped to finish the job in the final minutes.
The game began according to plan, with the pick and roll baiting A.J. Hammons into his first foul 31 seconds into the contest. Jordan Morgan knocked down two, and then the black-eyed Nik Stauskas intercepted a pass at the other end, turning it into a 1/2 trip to the line.
Another steal shortly thereafter, this time from Tim Hardaway Jr., led to a missed attempt at the rim in transition, but the good thing was that Michigan's defense was active. Once again, THJ picked up another steal shortly after the last one, only this time he finished with an easy little finger roll. Unfortunately, Michigan was once again having trouble boxing out on the defensive boards early, even with Hammons heading to the bench so early in the game.
By approximately the 16:50 mark, Purdue had already turned it over five times. The Boilers were also 0/3 from three early; Michigan could live with all of this and then some.
A beautiful high low feed from Trey Burke to Mitch McGary upped the early lead to 9-3. However, the lead was quickly cut down to 9-7 on a pair of Sandi Marcius buckets in the paint, the latter on dribble penetration in the heart of the lane on which McGary was forced to help on, leading to an open Marcius.
Despite a productive, energetic shift, McGary picked up two cheap fouls in about 20 seconds in the game's seventh minute, forcing Max Biefeldt into action. He quickly left his mark, managing a steal that eventually turned into a Glenn Robinson III drive to the basket for two.
It was a far from perfect start for the Wolverines, but they still found themselves up 17-7 at the 12:29 mark, with Marcius scoring all of Purdue's points. With Hammons finally returning to the game, it remained to be seen whether Michigan could have the same success attacking the rim in the half court.
In transition, Purdue was more than willing to pick up the pace, but turnovers and a general inability to hit shots resulted in Marcius being the only PU scorer well into the game. In fact, Terone Johnson scored Purdue's first non-Marcius points, at the line, at the 9:18 mark.
Aside from the fact that Michigan was making Marcius look like Hakeem Olajuwon, Michigan was playing well enough to acquire a 21-11 lead. The lead probably should have been much larger, but the Wolverines simply couldn't convert around the rim on a number of occasions; Jon Horford, Biefeldt and GRIII all missed bunnies/pseudo-bunnies that really should have been makes.
It came back to bite them, as Michigan's 3-point defense allowed Purdue to sneak back into it on a pair of threes, cutting the lead to 24-20. Another three, this time from Terone Johnson (assisted by brother Ronnie) in transition --there's that word again-- cut the lead to 28-25. Michigan's strong start was but a distant memory at this point, with the offense looking completely scatterbrained and desultory.
Purdue continued its hot streak, grabbing the lead for the first time at the 2:36 mark. Everything was going Purdue's way as Evil Michigan, an ersatz squad incapable of offensive cohesion or getting back on D, took the place of Awesome Michigan for a stretch.
An unbelievable number of missed bunnies and some horrific interior and transition defense sent Michigan into the half down, 34-30. This wasn't unfamiliar territory (Michigan was down at the half against Purdue at Crisler) but it certainly wasn't ideal, with the pressure set to kick up a notch or two in the second frame.
Burke shot an ugly 2/7 from the field in the first half; Michigan went into the second hoping that would change. Otherwise, Michigan probably wasn't going to walk away with a win.
Michigan came out attacking, with THJ and GRIII scoring the first four points of the half to tie it up. Unfortunately, Purdue scored the next nine. It was really just that kind of game. Michigan was getting outworked, outhustled, out-everythinged. This is a story we've read before.
Michigan was getting killed, not by D.J. Byrd or A.J. Hammons, but by guys like Rapheal Davis and Sandi Marcius. There is no conceivable reason for this that doesn't see words like hustle and heart and grit --stripped of irony-- sucked into its explanatory orbit.
Down 45-36 with 13 minutes to go, Michigan was really starting to look like the pressure was weighing on them, as if the game was being played on Jupiter. Matt Vogrich, of all people, came in and swished a three and got fouled (missed the FT, of course), but five Terone Johnson points thereafter more than cancelled out this surprising contribution.
With just under 13 minutes to go, Michigan was shooting 34% from the field and down 50-39. There was still plenty of time, but for anyone that has been watching college basketball for a long time, there was a faint realization that this game was already over.
Not to beat a dead horse, but Michigan looked tired. The defensive intensity wasn't there as it was on Sunday, the shots weren't falling, from up close or from beyond the arc and not much was going right in general.
A contested Burke three cut the lead to nine. A Purdue offensive foul thankfully gave Michigan a "stop" on the ensuing defensive possession, which Burke used to cut the lead to seven with a fadeaway jumper. Clearly, it was Burke emerging from the phone booth time.
A Stauskas trey, his first of the game on just two attempts, from the left wing cut the leads to six, 54-48. All of a sudden, Michigan had life, albeit a tenuous one, with Purdue entering the bonus on the other end.
Burke went to work again, probing the right side on a pick and roll, drawing a foul and hitting two free throws to cut the lead to five. Slowly but surely, Michigan was picking itself off them at after what seemed like an eight count. A hockey assist from McGary to Stauskas on the back door cut, then to GRIII on the other side of the line, led to two free throws; Robinson, his father in the building, hit both. 55-52, Purdue, 7:40 to go.
A fortunate call on an out-of-bounds situation have Michigan a second chance to score, which Burke of course converted with a smooth drive to the rim for two.
On the next defensive possession, Burke drew a foul grabbing a rebound, also putting Michigan in the double bonus. Burke missed the first, hit the second. 57-55, Purdue, 6:23 to go.
A masterful play in the open floor by Burke, slowing down to absorb a trailing defender and rising for a mid-range floater, cut the lead to one, 58-57. It wouldn't be Michigan basketball on the road without the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune randomly deciding to switch direction mid-air multiple times a game.
At the 5:20 mark, Burke made a nearly identical floater, giving Michigan the lead for the first time in seemingly forever. The only concern at this point was whether or not Michigan could switch gears, back down from the "all Burke all the time" gear down to a more normalized "run some offense maybe" gear. But, they also say not to fix something that isn't broken.
THJ came in and nailed a three with four fouls to his name, and Stauskas buried a pair of free throw and an enormous trey on back-to-back possessions. Michigan was up five now.
Purdue cut it to three, but another Wolverine pitched in on the next possession. This time, it was Mitch McGary, finishing through contact in the paint.
However, Byrd picked a bad time to hit his first field goal, a three, cutting the lead back down to two.
Luckily, Nik "Not Just A Shooter" Stauskas answered, attacking the rim, drawing a foul and hitting both free throws. 73-69, Michigan, 1:32 to go.
After some more back and forth, Michigan was up 75-73 with 24 seconds to go (15 on the shot clock), with possession of the ball. Purdue bailed Michigan out, fouling Burke on an awkward handoff from Jordan Morgan. Burke nailed both free throws.
A spinning Terone Johnson nailed a floater, his 31st and 32 points of the night (!), cutting the lead to two with 11.8 seconds to go. Burke hit 1/2 on the other end, giving Purdue a chance to tie.
Luckily, Terone Johnson mishandled the pass at the other end on the left wing. Trey Burke grabbed the loose ball, and the game was over.
Trey Burke finished with 26 points, seven assists five rebounds and and three steals. Once again, with Michigan needing to be saved, Trey Burke was there, knowing exactly what to do.
If you told me that Terone Johnson would score 32, Sandi Marcius would score 13 and Rapheal Davis would score 15, I'd have told you that there's no way Michigan wins that game.
Trey Burke has a way of altering what you thought was unalterable, improbable. None of that is real; Trey Burke is.