Earlier this month Michigan, not Purdue, was near the top of the Big Ten standings.
As January comes to a close, things have reverted back to the expected form.
The No. 16 Boilermakers, in the mix for a league title, try for a sixth consecutive victory while looking to hand the struggling Wolverines a fourth straight road loss Saturday afternoon.
A preseason favorite for its first conference title since 1996, Purdue (16-4, 5-2) opened Big Ten play with two straight losses, including 71-67 in overtime at home to Illinois on Dec. 30.
A month later, with preseason Big Ten player of the year Robbie Hummel and defensive ace Chris Kramer still nursing nagging injuries, the Boilermakers haven’t lost since falling 67-64 at Penn State on Jan. 6. They are 1 1/2 games back of league leader Michigan State.
“We definitely lost a few games before,” Purdue leading scorer E’Twaun Moore said. “We’ve been playing as hard as we could, and we were saying we’ve got to pick it up and get things rolling.”
While Purdue looks to continue its push toward the top of the Big Ten, Michigan (14-7, 4-5) hopes to prevent falling further off the pace after dropping four of its last five since starting 3-1 in the league.
The Boilermakers look for a third straight win against the Wolverines after taking both meetings last season. Purdue has won the last four matchups at Mackey Arena by an average of 16.0 points since losing 78-67 on Feb. 19, 2003.
Moore scored 17 points in Purdue’s 72-58 victory at Michigan on March 9 in the teams’ most recent meeting, and had the same point total in a 64-63 comeback win at Wisconsin on Tuesday.
Purdue shot a season-high 59.5 percent from the field, but trailed by five with less than 5 minutes to play. Hummel, whose back spasms have limited him to 22 points in his last three games, hit a 3-pointer with a minute left to give the Boilermakers the lead for good.
The Boilermakers have played well defensively, holding opponents to 35.8 percent shooting during their five-game win streak.
“We have a good group of guys that are fun to be around, that come to practice every day and try to get better,” coach Matt Painter said. “When you do those things, you’re going to win some games.”
Michigan has shot 38.4 percent during its skid at Mackey Arena, and 36.0 percent over its last five games overall.
Sophomore Manny Harris had 22 points with 12 rebounds, but committed 10 turnovers as the Wolverines shot 30.6 percent in a 72-54 loss at Ohio State on Wednesday to fall to 1-3 on the road in the Big Ten.
“Though we fought hard and I was really proud with how we played in the second half, the first half was a bit of a death sentence to us,” said coach John Beilein, whose team went 5-for-25 from the field and committed 11 of its season-high 21 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. “You can’t do that on the road.”
Harris, second in the league with 17.8 points per game, had 25 in Michigan’s 65-58 loss at Purdue on Jan. 5, 2008.
Michigan will be without starting guard Zack Novak, who was suspended one game Friday for his flagrant foul and subsequent ejection in the loss to Ohio State. Novak, a freshman who has started nine games, is averaging 6.7 points.
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