Purdue needed some immediate incentive to rally past Michigan last month. If the Boilermakers are looking for some this time, they need only look at their spot in the Big Ten standings.
Hoping to keep pace in the conference title chase, No. 16 Purdue tries for a fifth straight victory overall and fourth in a row against the host Wolverines on Thursday night.
The Boilermakers (21-6, 10-4) found themselves in the middle of a major challenge on Jan. 31 when Michigan visited Mackey Arena. Early in the second half, Purdue guard Chris Kramer was temporarily knocked out after taking an elbow to the nose from Wolverines’ star Manny Harris.
Harris, second in the Big Ten averaging 16.9 points, was ejected. Kramer, meanwhile, returned to help Purdue outscore Michigan 40-20 after the foul and roll to a 67-49 victory.
The Boilermakers didn’t feel the need to retaliate then and likely won’t in this contest.
“We don’t retaliate, we just get `Ws’,” Kramer said.
Purdue can’t afford to lose focus, especially entering this contest second in the Big Ten, 1 1/2 games back of leader and ninth-ranked Michigan State.
The Boilermakers, who are 4-3 away from home in the league and looking for their second straight road win, host Ohio State and Northwestern after this contest before finishing at Michigan State on March 8—with a possible regular-season title on the line.
Though Purdue is playing well since losing consecutive road games to the Buckeyes and then-No. 23 Illinois to open February, it will be facing a Michigan needing a marquee victory in Big Ten play to bolster its NCAA tournament hopes. The Wolverines (17-11, 7-8), who have non-conference wins over ranked teams Duke and UCLA, likely have to win their final three games and fare well enough in the conference tournament to get its first NCAA bid since 1998.
A Senior Day atmosphere at Crisler Arena won’t make things easy for Purdue, but the Boilermakers snapped a three-game losing streak at Michigan with a 72-58 win there last season.
Purdue’s E’Twaun Moore had 17 in that contest and last month versus the Wolverines. Averaging a team-leading 14.0 points, the sophomore had a season-high 26 in the Boilermakers’ 81-67 rout of Indiana on Saturday.
“I thought earlier in the year, it was just a matter of time before he has a big-time game,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.
JaJuan Johnson added 14 and 10 rebounds for Purdue, which shot 57.1 percent — still not enough to completely satisfy Painter.
“Your honest feelings is that we should have played a little bit harder, we should have played better, we should have played better defense,” said Painter after his team allowed the last-place Hoosiers to shoot 50 percent.
The Boilermakers, who are holding opponents to a Big Ten-low 37.6 percent shooting, held the Wolverines to 36.0 percent last month.
Without Harris, Michigan struggled to find some offense. It’s uncertain how the sophomore guard will respond after being benched for the entire overtime period in Sunday’s 70-60 loss at Iowa.
Michigan coach John Beilein said Harris didn’t seem fresh enough to continue after scoring nine points on 3-of-13 shooting in regulation. Harris, who had five points before being ejected against Purdue, looks to bounce back after totaling 17 points on 5-of-21 shooting in his last two games.
The Wolverines, 13-3 at home, have lost their last three games against ranked opponents since beating then-No. 4 Duke 81-73 at home on Dec. 6.