|Let's go, Moe! (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
My wife asked me if I had cautioned our son that Michigan may not win this one, that Purdue was atop the Big Ten standings and ranked, that Michigan has been well, inconsistent to say the least this season, but I was more hopeful after the last two weeks, even after the hiccup at Rutgers, that Michigan could keep it close.
My son has an amazing knack for remembering things and noticing things to which I am not even paying attention. (To wit, he not only told me yesterday that Louisville and Syracuse were playing for a second time yesterday, he told me the restaurant we were at when they were playing the first time.) "Daddy, Michigan has never been behind in this game!" "Daddy, Michigan has made all of their free throws!" "Daddy, Duncan is in the game!" (His current favorite player since he wears 22, his favorite number. That's how these things work when you're a kid.)
I was focused deeply on Moe Wagner, and how he just seemed to be so at ease in the first half. He was locked in, and even from the high perch of the upper bowl of Crisler, you could just see he was active, focused, and feeling it. He didn't even need heat checks because everything was clicking. Michigan's game prep saw something in Purdue's bigs they could exploit with Wagner, and while that's a great plan, Wagner still had to make it happen and he did. He had "a game in a half" to borrow a phrase from Sunday morning's episode of "The B1G Show" and even though Purdue's adjustments lead to foul trouble for the big man, he had got Michigan off to the start they needed for this game.
So, in some way, the second half became Derrick Walton time. It wasn't that Walton had a huge second half, just two field goals and three free throws, as much as he made the biggest shot of the day, an absolutely dreadful looking three-pointer on a dying shot clock with 1:46 left to stop the bleeding (Michigan had led 66-44 at the 8 minute mark and now it was 76-67 thanks to a 21-10 Purdue run over five and a half minute.) and put a bow on the game. Walton's leadership, rebounding, and confidence helped Michigan prevent a dreadful collapse and likely, hopefully, put Michigan on the right side of the NCAA tournament bubble. There's a reason Walton was Kenpom's MVP, after all.
In the final analysis, it was a great day at the new Crisler, one that showed what Michigan can do when everything is clicking on both ends of the floor. Michigan has now won five of its last six, a February flip of the usual Beilein script, and has two winnable (but also losable) games on the road against a very desparate Northwestern team (that will be very important for B1G Tournament seeding as well as Northwestern's NCAA tournament hopes) and the final game of the B1G regular season, an 8:00 PM tip against Nebraska on Sunday evening. If Michigan can take its recent efforts and build upon them, maybe this season will be more than we could have hoped for just six short weeks ago.