The Journal Gazette
Saturday, January 23, 2021 1:00 am

Michigan 70, Purdue 53

Boilers unable to find any rhythm

Top guard Stefanovic out after positive COVID test

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue's four-game winning streak came to a screeching halt Friday night, running into the brick wall that is the Michigan defense.

The No. 7 Wolverines solidified their position at the top of the Big Ten standings by holding Purdue to 31% shooting and forcing 14 Boilermakers turnovers on the way to a 70-53 win at Mackey Arena.

It was the first home loss of the season for Purdue (11-6, 6-4 Big Ten).

“It was mostly just us beating ourselves,” center Trevion Williams said. “If we set screens and we execute on offense, we can get anything we want, so we were basically just beating ourselves. ... (Michigan) just played tougher, that was really it.”

Williams had 14 points and 11 rebounds for his third double-double in four games, but he found the going difficult against Michigan's interior defense. The junior, who went to high school in Dearborn, Michigan, came into the game shooting 59% from the field in his last 11 games, but the Wolverines (13-1, 8-1), who are No. 4 in the country in 2-point field goal defense, limited him to a 6-for-19 shooting performance.

“He went baseline a couple of times when he didn't have a lot of room,” coach Matt Painter said of Williams. “He went to the middle and missed layups and jump hooks that he normally hits. He just has to get off to a better start. That's been an issue for him, period. 

“We're not going anywhere. We're going back to him.”

The Wolverines led for the final 38:33, and the Boilermakers were never within single digits in the second half. Michigan used a 7-0 run to push a four-point lead to 11 at 25-14 with 6:08 to go in the first half.

Forward Isaiah Livers got that run started with a 3-pointer and then drained another 3 to stretch the margin to 15 late in the first half. Livers went 3 for 5 from beyond the arc and led all scorers with 22 points while adding 10 rebounds.

Michigan led 34-21 at halftime, and another Livers 3 pushed the advantage to 18 in the opening minute of the second half. Purdue cut the deficit to 10 in short order thanks mostly to a pair of Brandon Newman 3s in a 1:08 span, but that was as close as the hosts got.

The Boilermakers trailed 64-50 with 4:02 left and any hopes of a comeback fizzled as they missed their final seven field goal attempts.

Newman's back-to-back 3-pointers early in the second half were the only long distance shots the Boilermakers made all night. Purdue was 2 for 12 from beyond the arc.

The Boilers were missing their best 3-point shooter in guard Sasha Stefanovic, who tested positive for the coronavirus Thursday and will miss at least three games as he navigates the Big Ten's virus protocol.

Stefanovic had started each of Purdue's 16 previous games and averages 11.1 points. In Stefanovic's place in the lineup was freshman Jaden Ivey, who went 3 for 14 from the field and 0 for 5 from 3-point range. It was the Mishawaka native's first career start.

Ivey agreed that playing without Stefanovic's ability to stretch the floor made the game more difficult but emphasized that the rest of the team has to be better.

“We don't have (Stefanovic's) presence, he's been here three years,” said Ivey, who had 12 points, five rebounds and five assists. “We were missing a leader tonight. It's just tough. We needed his 3s tonight, but we can't let Sasha being gone control what we've got going on on the court. We just didn't bring it tonight. ... This game is on us. When we lose games, it's always on us.”

Without Stefanovic on the floor, Purdue struggled to get consistent guard play, and starting backcourt players Ivey, Newman and Eric Hunter Jr. combined to turn the ball over six times and shoot 26.5% from the field.

“Sasha's been able to play to his strengths and be solid,” Painter said. “(He's) not turning the ball over, doing what he's supposed to do and we missed that. We didn't have great guard play. It wasn't like our interior guys played well either, but we just didn't have good guard play. Our decision-making had to be better. We had 14 turnovers, it seemed like 24.

“You just have to make better decisions. ... I don't care what level you play at, high school, pros, college, you have to have good guard play and we simply did not tonight.”

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