ANN ARBOR, Mich. – After missing 11 games with lower left leg injury, Caris LeVert finally made his way back on to the basketball court on Saturday.
And while he was limited physically, playing only 11 minutes – all in the first-half -- LeVert would still finish with five rebounds and an assist, missing his only shot from the field, as Michigan defeated Purdue 61-56.
“Happy that Caris could get out there,” Beilein said of LeVert. “The start of the second half he really felt out of shape and wobbly.”
Noting, that LeVert may have played in an “emergency” type situation.
“It was just about enough for him to get ready for the next game,” Beilein said of LeVert. “I might of second guessed (myself) if we lost it. But as you can see, (LeVert) played this game on one and half practices, you’re not ready to play. You need full practices, up and down, up and down. You can’t cheat this game.
“So we decided not to push it anymore.”
Walton Jr. finding his way
Derrick Walton Jr. struggled missing his first nine shots. But then found his way to the bucket on for gritty layup and foul late in the game when U-M needed him the most.
“There was a point in the game where some people on my bench were saying ‘get him out of there.’ I said ‘the dude scored 26 points the other night. I’m not taking him out,’” Beilein said of Walton Jr. “Every time he misses a shot. I mean the next one is going in.
“And so we rode him all the way down. He only made one of them, but he knocked those foul shots in.”
Adding, he also gave him some words of encouragement during the game as well.
“I don’t know if I gave him nay confidence in the game, but I called him over after he missed three open shots and I said ‘make the shots, damn it.’ That’s a whole lot of confidence I just gave him,” Beilein said. “You just got to be real with him. He’s a tough kid and he’s learning to be tougher.”
Winning the rebound game
Despite being over match physically by the larger Purdue frontcourt, U-M outrebounded the Boilermakers 39-35. A stat Beilein says may never happen again.
“If you look at this thing, we out rebounded Purdue,” Beilein said. “Look at that, they may the only time you will ever see that stat. So we got it done somehow. Chad Carr I think was battling the ball to us as a little angel out there. We were getting the ball. We ended up being able to get enough done so they didn’t have too many second chance opportunities.”
Irvin stepping up
Zak Irvin led U-M with 22 points, with 16 of them coming the second half.
“He’s really worked really hard after the injury this summer to really get a rhythm back and wants to take big shots,” Beilein said. “You look at the contrast of him in Derrick (Walton Jr.), in the Minnesota game and this game they flipped roles. That was huge for him to go in there and make those big ones, especially the 3s, that’s good.”
U-M next plays at rival Ohio State this Tuesday at 7 p.m.