Up-and-down Michigan looks for high note against No. 4 Purdue
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Coach Juwan Howard knows his Michigan basketball team faces a steep climb in order to secure an NCAA Tournament berth.
The Wolverines can enhance their resume, though, with a road win against a Top 10 team on Saturday afternoon when they play No. 4 Purdue at West Lafayette, Ind.
It's the first meeting this season between the Big Ten clubs; they originally were scheduled to match up in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Jan. 11.
A COVID outbreak within Michigan's program forced a postponement. That game will be made up on Feb. 10.
Michigan (11-8, 5-4 Big Ten) has won four of its past five games, though it narrowly escaped disaster in a home game against last-place Nebraska on Tuesday.
The Wolverines trailed by seven in the late going against the Cornhuskers, who are winless in the Big Ten, but finished the game on an 19-6 run to prevail 85-79.
"Our guys understand what we're dealing with. They understand that this is a very competitive conference and you've got to go out there and compete every game," Howard said. "There's no easy matchups. You have well-coached teams in this league, coaches that prepared their players to know that.
"The conference is athletic, tough, physical, have bigs, have shooting. Some of our guys are learning that, especially the new guys."
It's no secret to the team that center Hunter Dickinson is indispensable. That was reinforced when Dickinson picked up two early fouls against the Cornhuskers and sat for nearly 15 minutes. Nebraska established a seven-point halftime lead while Dickinson watched from the bench.
He scored 20 of his 26 points and grabbed all eight of his rebounds after the break.
"I was hoping he would put me back in, being the player (I am) and the competitiveness in me, but it worked," Dickinson said. "What he did worked out, so I'm cool with it."
The starting backcourt of Eli Brooks (20) and DeVante' Jones (18) combined for 38 points, but Dickinson made all the difference. Michigan was plus-18 with him on the court.
"In the second half, he was challenged, and he stepped up and became that force, became that best player, became that No. 1 option, became that All-American that is going to lead his team. And he led," Howard said. "He put us on his back, and we followed him."
Purdue (19-3, 8-3) has four consecutive wins since losing at Indiana on Jan. 20. The Boilermakers are coming off an 88-73 road win over Minnesota on Wednesday. Jaden Ivey led the way with 21 points and matched his career high of 10 rebounds as Purdue reached the 80-point mark for the fourth consecutive game.
"Like any other game, we're going to try to establish our size," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "That's our main thing, then trying to get him in transition, driving the basketball and opening up things for other people. I thought he had really good patience for the most part (Wednesday) on his drives, just letting things come to him and getting to the basket."
Senior guard Eric Hunter Jr., who averages 5.0 points per game, contributed a career-high 20.
"It's always good to get career highs, especially on the road when usually you don't play your best on the road on the offensive side," Hunter said.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 3, 2022