ANN ARBOR — In the first of a brutal three-part test, Michigan fell short in heartbreaking fashion.
The Wolverines were one-upped 70-69 by No. 5 Purdue just as beef and steak replace twinkies and cookies on the schedule.
Michigan forward Moritz Wagner, foreground, react to a 3-point basket by guard Charles Matthews, left, during Tuesday's game against Purdue.
Seven-footer Isaac Haas made a free throw with four seconds left on a foul call that drew loud boos from the Crisler Center crowd. Moritz Wagner was attempting to knock the ball away from Haas on an inbounds play.
“That one hurts,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “It was a great opportunity for us to beat a really good basketball team.”
On the previous possession, Michigan was going to have the final shot, but the ball was poked away from Charles Matthews and ended up going off the junior guard. After a lengthy review — and three consecutive timeouts — Purdue took the basketball.
Purdue represented the first of three games in six days — two against top-5 teams — that could define Michigan’s season. A road trip to No. 4 Michigan State looms Saturday with a home date against Maryland next Monday.
John Beilein commented Saturday after Michigan’s bumpy win over Illinois that the Wolverines were getting their desired results — wins — but they were coming in a fashion that felt parlous. He pointed to the three-game stretch as setting a benchmark.
If Tuesday was a barometer, the current readings are mixed.
“We had chances to win this game,” Beilein said. “We couldn’t get stops when we needed to. They made tough shots. Down the stretch, I wish we could've done better. We’ll grow from it.”
Michigan fell behind by 14 points and 10 points in the first half and 13 in the second half because of a combination of mundane offense and the inability to slow Purdue’s scoring. Whether it was Isaac Haas at the basket, or Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias behind the 3-point line, the Boilermakers’ chance for points was probable.
They made 11 of their first 19 shots, including 6 of 7 from 3-point range. Edwards finished with a game-high 19 points, Haas scored 17, and Mathias had 14.
Monday afternoon Beilein told reporters that as he glanced over Purdue’s stats, he was surprised to see opponents were shooting 42.3 percent.
“I said, ‘Oh, they’re not that good this year,’” Beilein noted.
“And then I realized I was looking at our stats,” he added, laughing.
Thirty-one hours later, it was indeed poor field goal defense that contributed to the Wolverines’ loss.
Purdue shot nearly 50 percent from the field and made 12 of 21 3-point attempts.
Zavier Simpson led Michigan with 15 points, six rebounds, and five assists, Charles Matthews had 14 points and seven rebounds, and Wagner had 11 points and six rebounds.
“My man didn't beat us — Moe Wagner. He destroyed us last year,” said Purdue coach Matt Painter, referencing Wagner’s 24-point performance last season. “I wasn't going to watch that movie again. Moe Wagner is a stud, and we weren't going to let him beat us again.”
All three times the Wolverines fell behind by double digits, they slowly whittled away at the deficit, finally taking the lead on a Simpson 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 28 seconds left in the game.
A seesaw affair unfolded, with the teams trading baskets before going cold over the final 2:28. Neither team made a field goal in the final two minutes, and the only point was Haas’ free throw.
“We’re tougher,” Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. “We keep fighting till the end. No one wants to go out there and let the other team make runs. But stuff happens in games. We just have to keep fighting back. We can't look at the score. We have to keep playing.”
Purdue’s early surge didn’t go unanswered. A 12-2 Michigan run got the Wolverines within four points after trailing 30-16, until Purdue rattled off the next nine points.
What seemed like a minor sequence ended up carrying significant weight. With seven seconds left in the first half, P.J. Thompson turned the ball over when Purdue could have taken the last shot. Instead, Beilein called timeout and set up a play for Simpson, whose floater in the lane trimmed Michigan’s deficit to seven points at the half.
After losing consecutive games on consecutive days in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving, the Boilermakers cruised into Ann Arbor on an 11-game win streak, the third longest in the nation. Michigan was undeterred, though, thanks to its own win streak of seven games and a confidence that was building over the previous month.
A respectable résumé had been built by Michigan with wins over UCLA, Texas, VCU, and Indiana. Tuesday provided the Wolverines with an opportunity to defeat a top 5 team for the first since Jan. 2016.
Michigan grasped the moment with strong hands, but all was relinquished when Matthews’ 3-point buzzer beater hit off the rim.
“If we beat the Purdues and Michigan States,” Beilein said Monday, “then I’ll probably be a believer that we’re OK.”
Another chance awaits on Saturday.
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