Derrick Walton had taken nine shots. None of them had gone in. With Michigan improbably within three points in the waning minutes against Purdue, however, he crossed over PJ Thompson and charged into the paint, laying his first bucket in off the glass as AJ Hammons knocked him to the floor.
While Walton missed his chance to tie the game at the line, he more than redeemed himself, pulling down two signature high-flying defensive rebounds and making 4/4 free throws in the final 15 seconds to seal the victory.
On the afternoon Caris LeVert finally returned to the court, only to play 11 scoreless first-half minutes before sitting out the second half, Zak Irvin also played out a redemption tale. Coming off an ugly 1/8 performance against Minnesota, Irvin went 2/7 in the first half and had his first shot of the second swatted by Hammons. Then he heated up from the outside and turned around his battle with burly Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan, scoring 16 of his 22 points in the second half, including the winning points on a pull-up from the free-throw line with 1:09 remaining that barely crested over Hammons' fingertips.
Despite inconsistent performances from their stars, foul trouble for Mark Donnal, and Rapheal Davis once again eliminating Duncan Robinson (4 points, 0/1 3P) from the offense, Michigan found a way to win. To earn it, they had to lean on defense and rebounding.
Against the best rebounding team in the conference on both ends of the floor, Michigan won the battle of the boards, pulling down 28% of their misses to Purdue's 20%. While Swanigan (14 points, 6/9 FG) proved tough to handle, the bigs collectively slowed the two-headed center monster of Hammons and Isaac Haas (combined 21 points on 24 shots) with help from timely double-teams by the guards.
That's how Michigan could go 5/20 from three and still beat a team that presents major matchup issues. Purdue went 6/12 from beyond the arc but only 15/41 within it, and the second chances they normally rely upon weren't available very often. Days removed from one of the most demoralizing weeks in recent memory, Michigan is 9-4 in the Big Ten, all alone in fourth place and needing only two wins in their final five games—which includes a home matchup against Northwestern—to feel very good about their NCAA Tournament chances.
Perhaps—just perhaps—we were too quick to bury a John Beilein team. It wouldn't be the first time.