ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Having a highlight dunk plastered on Sportscenter’s Top Ten plays will always look more important and glamorous than the tough defense, block or steal, rebound and outlet pass it took to make the eventual rim rocker possible.
If the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines learned anything in Thursday night’s 68-53 win over Purdue, to improve their record to 18-1 overall and 5-1 in the Big Ten, it’s that defense remains the key to not only starting the engine, but getting that powerful piece of metal to start revving.
“Here’s the thing they’re learning is, it’s a lot of fun playing defense if you rebound cause then it puts us in the transition,” said John Beilein after the game.
“That’s what I think they’re all understanding but especially our freshmen. That, if I guard somebody -- it always wasn’t this way where we might guard somebody and they get two or three offensive rebounds. When you’ve got Mitch and Jordan and Glenn and Jon in there, we can get rebounds. Now that’s the first part of our break. Defense has become part of our offense, hopefully.”
The foundation the Michigan basketball program and the 2012-13 Wolverines are built upon will continue to be the details, discipline, and hustle -- all of the ingredients necessary for a good team to be great. But not all teams have talented players solely focused on the goal of the team, stopping the man in front of you, diving on a hard floor, or even the understanding that expectations needn’t change a thing in the attitude department.
Notably in the second half, Michigan fans rose to their feet, gasping as Trey Burke nearly pulled in a steal, ending up on the floor with empty hands. Then two seconds later, playing full denial defense 30-feet from the cup, Mitch McGary tipped the ball out, then up, before being fouled. The crowd erupted and came to its feet as if Burke had successfully been able to toss the ball off the backboard for a McGary two-handed flush. Even fans are building off Michigan’s blue-collar approach.
Purdue came to Crisler Center Thursday riding a three game winning streak lead by strong inside play out of center A.J. Hammons, fresh off four-straight double figure scoring performances. But Michigan’s frontline of the previously mentioned McGary, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford crippled the Boilermakers effectiveness inside, holding a 12 points and eight rebounds per game player to just two points and two rebounds.
D.J. Byrd, the story of the first half for Purdue with his three knockdowns from the long line, totaling 11 points in the first 20 minutes of play, finished with that exact same amount the rest of the way.
Clamp down defense took Michigan from a one-point halftime deficit to a 15-point, grind it out, Big Ten victory, that taught them quite a bit with Illinois waiting in Champagne Sunday.
“I wasn’t crazy about some of our poise in the first half,” said Beilein. “We tried to hit some home runs instead of some singles; and in the second half we really played smart both on offense and defense. I’m just really happy because as you can see that’s Big Ten basketball at a very high level.”
“Many of you have seats that are high up -- if you’re close to that floor, that is intense basketball with an awful lot of speed and strength, combined, at the same time.”
To watch video of Beilein from his post game press conference, click play below.