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Five Takeaways: Michigan 61, #18 Purdue 56

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Michigan won a game that made absolutely no sense and other takeaways from the Wolverines' huge 61-56 win over #18 Purdue.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
1. That was one of the most atypical Michigan wins I've seen.

That was not how it was supposed to go. Michigan was supposed to try to win with offense. Michigan was supposed to try and catch fire to beat Purdue by shooting over the top of it with mid-range jumpers and threes. Purdue's size was supposed to be too much for Michigan. Purdue was supposed to bully Michigan on the block. Purdue was supposed to impose its will on the glass. Purdue was supposed to get to the charity stripe.

None of that happened. None of it.

Michigan's offense sputtered for much of the game, even enduring a long stretch in the second half during which it made just 1-of-15 field goals. Michigan's offense had its worst three-point shooting effort of the season, hitting just 5-of-20 threes (25.0 pct.). Purdue's size wasn't too much for Michigan. Purdue had its worst two-point shooting effort of the season (36.6 pct.) and scored fewer points in the paint than Michigan. Purdue had a lower offensive rebounding rate than Michigan and was outrebounded by an opponent for the first time all year. And Purdue attempted eight fewer free throws than Michigan.

Nothing about this win made sense, and that's why it's so rewarding for Michigan.

Under John Beilein, Michigan has played with a very finesse style, using four-guard lineups and emphasizing outside shooting and spacing rather than defense and physicality. Sometimes, this is misconstrued as Michigan being "soft," but it's not often that Michigan overcomes a poor shooting night to win by digging down on defense and doing the dirty work inside. And, not only did Michigan do this on Saturday, Michigan did this against Purdue, who's one of the biggest, most physical teams in the country.

It wouldn't be correct to say that Michigan beat Purdue at its own game because the Wolverines weren't running their offense through the post or feeding Mark Donnal, but they definitely proved that they can find ways to win games even when their shot is cold. They demonstrated they can be resilient, and that could go a long way to finish this year.

2. Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton each had a second-half redemption.

In a game of utmost importance, two of Michigan's best players, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton, came out flat. Irvin looked shook in the first half. He just had a four-point, four-turnover performance at Minnesota earlier in the week, and it appeared to still be on his mind. He missed five of his first six shots, but what was most concerning was that his misses weren't close and his confidence was waning. This was exemplified by a possession in which Michigan made a bunch of sharp, crisp passes, the last of which went to an open Irvin on the right wing. But, rather than launch a three, Irvin opted to dribble inside, put up a contested mid-range two, and airballed it. At that point, he wasn't just missing shots. He also was harming the flow of the offense. And, while that was happening, Walton, who posted 26 points on 15 shots, eight rebounds, and seven assists against Minnesota, couldn't buy a bucket. He missed his first nine shots (!!), six of which were three-pointers, and didn't score a single point in the first 37 minutes of the game.

But Irvin and Walton redeemed themselves in the second half and were essential to Michigan's win. Something must have happened in the locker room at halftime because Irvin was a brand-new player. He hit back-to-back threes early in the period to knot the score at 37 points apiece, and all of his confidence rushed back to him. He was the one carrying Michigan's offense in the second half, scoring 16 of Michigan's 34 points on 12 shots to finish with 22 points on 8-of-19 shooting. And Irvin's jumpers were timely. He never allowed Purdue to build a comfortable lead, always keeping Michigan within range. He chopped the Boilermakers' six-point lead in half with a triple with 2:43 left. Then Walton, who still was seeking his first points, cut the lead to one on the next possession with a spectacular finish as he went to the rim, hung in the air to get bumped by seven-foot A.J. Hammons, and put the ball off the glass and into the hole for a bucket and foul. It was a gutsy, gutsy play by someone who had missed his first nine shots, but he didn't let that stop him from thinking #10 would go down. Walton missed the ensuing free throw, but who came to the rescue? Irvin, who, on the next possession, dribbled from the left wing to the free-throw line and sunk a jumper to give Michigan a 57-56 lead. Purdue wouldn't score again, Walton would make his next four free throws, and Irvin and Walton scored the final 11 points of the game to seal the win for the Wolverines.

It took time for Irvin and Walton to show up, but better late than never.

3. Mark Donnal's stat line doesn't do his performance justice.

The box score says that Mark Donnal tallied eight points on just 2-of-5 shooting, grabbed only one rebound, and committed four fouls. The box score says that Donnal didn't have a tremendous impact on this game. The box score is a filthy, dirty, and disgusting liar.

Donnal's offense may not have stood out, but his defense was why Michigan was able to hang in this game for as long as it did. Purdue has a trio of big men in seven-foot A.J. Hammons, 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas, and 6-foot-9 Caleb Swanigan, and Purdue runs the offense through them. Though Zak Irvin understandably had lots of trouble bodying up Swanigan, who recorded 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, Donnal's work on Hammons and Haas, who needed 21 two-point attempts to score 21 points, was impressive given that he's at least three inches shorter than them. Not only did he stay vertical when Hammons and Haas would go up to shoot, he did a great job of using his chest and forearm to force them to go straight up or fade away when they shot. They weren't able to lean into Donnal and move him out of the way. This made their shots more difficult and is one of the key reasons why Purdue averaged only 0.917 points per possession in the game. Donnal did have some help as Michigan timed its double downs on the post better as the game went on, but it wouldn't have mattered if Donnal wasn't strong in the post to start.

4. Caris LeVert isn't "Caris LeVert" yet.

On Saturday, Caris LeVert appeared in a game for the first time in 2016. The senior star had missed the previous 11 games with a "lower left leg" injury and left many wondering when or if he would return. LeVert didn't start, but he came off the bench to play 11 minutes in the first half. While it was great to see him out there, it was clear that he still isn't 100 percent yet. That doesn't mean he's still experiencing pain, but he's still not in full game shape and, importantly, he seemed tentative on the court. Though he had a few nice drives that sucked in Purdue's defense and to open Michigan's perimeter shooters, he wasn't as assertive as he usually is, failing to score and shooting just one shot. It looked like he was thinking about his injury while on the court, which is understandable for someone who hasn't played in a game in six weeks. This was an opportunity for him to shake off the rust, get comfortable on the court again, and play his way into shape. And, as Michigan prepares for the postseason, the LeVert it knows should be back soon.

5. I didn't hear anyone calling for John Beilein to be fired on Saturday.

Strange.