Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Michigan-Purdue: Learning To Fly

Michigan 66, Purdue 64

There were 3.8 seconds left, and Evan Smotrycz was on the line after Michigan capably whipped the ball around berserker Boilermaker defenders trying to foul. A defender stood between him and an open Zack Novak, but he somewhat awkwardly held on to it. Purdue had no timeouts, and even if Smotrycz missed both, their chances of victory were minimal...and yet, it wasn't over. There are those that will be quick to say that it's not over until the clock reads all zeroes, as if there is some yet un-mined nuance of wisdom in the statement. Most fans will find this person annoying; that is decidedly not the case for Michigan fans. Evan Turner. The Wisconsin game. I don't even have to say any more and you know what I'm talking about. End of game scenarios are inextricably linked with fear; College Basketball rings the Pavlovian bell and Michigan fans are conditioned to cringe. 

The door was slightly ajar, and it pushed open slightly when Smotrycz got fouled. He made the first free throw, calmly and without difficulty, pushing the door back so that it was very nearly shut. He missed the second. I braced for the worst.

When the final heave harmlessly careened off of the backboard, I breathed a sigh of relief. You could say it was the Universe's way of meting out a makeup call.

Sadly, putting this picture in a post does
not magically make this football season.
(HT: Mike DeSimone)
I continue to wear my 2007-08 Michigan basketball shirt in order to give me the opportunity to look at it during games and realize how far we've really come. The last time Michigan had left West Lafayette victorious came a month and a half after John Navarre and Chris Perry led Michigan to a bowl victory against Rex Grossman and Ron Zook's Florida Gators. It was a long, long time ago. Purdue might be down, but don't let that convince you that this win was anything but incredibly meaningful for this team and this program. The fact that Purdue's final desperation heave didn't fall is, in a way, revealing. Maybe this is the cosmos's way of letting us have start to have nice things.

Michigan not only went on the road and won at an extremely difficult place to get a win, they weathered the storm of a 17-3 Purdue run that extinguished Michigan's 10-point lead and then some. It would have been easy to stop there, to say it's not our day and that winning on the road in this conference is just an added bonus, the extra scoop of ice cream that a disinterested employee doesn't bother charging you for.

At the under 8 minutes TV timeout, Michigan was down 47-51. In the remaining minutes, Jordan Morgan, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, and Stu Douglass all scored, and Zack Novak contributed the final brilliant assist. This was a team effort. Also, for a team that seems to rise and fall with Jordan Morgan's production in a correlative fashion, it is only fitting that the winning basket was one of his patented thunder dunks.

A Big Ten road win and a 16th win (when Michigan had 19 pre-Big Ten Tournament wins all of last season)? It's a start.

Player Bullets, Also Known As "Welcome Back Tim":

  • Burke--It's hard to complain too much after a cathartic win like that, but the freshman has been having a hard time from the field, going 3/10 (0/2 from 3) with two of those makes being layups. Trey had some trouble containing Lewis Jackson, which is a little disappointing after his performance against Jordan Taylor but is also understandable...Jackson is unbelievably quick (he could probably be a slot ninja type in an RR offense). Trey also had one of his most glaring "freshman moments" to date, when Michigan had the ball with under a minute to go, up 1, with the opportunity to run some clock out. It all worked out in the end, but you certainly would've liked to see the offense run for a little bit before having Trey go into play-making mode. 
  • Hardaway--First, the bad...THJ had some significant issues on the defensive end. Early in the game, I remember him getting blown by with ease, only to get bailed out by Burke, who was in position to take the charge. Not long after that, THJ was lackadaisical in closing out on an open 3-point shooter (this is not the only instance of this). As much as people complained about aspects of his offensive game, his defense has been equally worthy of criticism. With his size and overall athleticism, he could be an above average defensive player if he wanted to. With that it's nice to see THJ fill it up again. A solid 8/15 from the field (2/6 from 3) and a diverse execution of his offensive repertoire equals a happy me. Hopefully this was the adrenaline jolt he needed to get his game back on track for good. 
  • Douglass--Stu has secretly been a really good player for us (minus his outside shooting, which has been either really bad or killer) wasn't even a secret this game. Here's the line: 12 points (5/8 overall, 2/3 from 3), 5 boards 3 assists, 2 steals, and only 1 turnover. That is a very good game, and Stu has quietly been a mini-revelation since Smotrycz's benching. 
  • Novak--Had a sort of quiet game on the offensive end, but he did only shot the ball four times, going 2/4 overall (1/1 from 3). On the other hand, contributed 8 gritty boards, as usual. He also pitched in 3 assists, the most crucial being the final one during which he created the play on the bounce to find an open ready-to-dunk Morgan on the block. That's not a play that City of Gritville's best and only resident could make a year ago. 
  • Morgan--When Morgan is on, this team is so much more fun to watch. I would argue that when Morgan's play/statistical contribution (yes, again, some of his points are due to just being wide open) is the biggest indicator of Michigan's success on a given day. If I didn't know what the score was, and you told me that Morgan had gone 5/7 from the field for 12 points, I would guess with confidence that we had won. By the way, this is the second time that someone has grabbed him by the arm like that (the first being the incident during the Northwestern game)...hey, tiny Big Ten guards. Stop that. 
  • Vogrich--Only five minutes...made his one field goal attempt (and it wasn't even a 3). 
  • Smotrycz--A very solid performance from the bench, going 3/5 from the field and 1/2 from 3, good for 10 points. Throw in the only one turnover and I'll take that from him every time. I don't think he's close to starting again yet, but this was a good first step toward that end. 
  • Akunne--Resurfaced in this one only to get hurt at some point during his 2 minutes of play. Hopefully it's not too serious; he's obviously not a big piece, but Michigan can't really afford that many injuries, even to low-usage depth guys. 
  • Brundidge--One minute. Looked awkward the one time he had the ball. It's hard to really say anything about him when he plays so few minutes. Hopefully Michigan will be on the winning side of a blowout one of these days so we can get a better look at him.

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