Michigan finally demonstrated the toughness its coach was looking for in a huge win over the weekend.
The seventh-ranked Wolverines may need a similar approach to shake off their road funk Wednesday night when they play Purdue, where they have lost six of seven.
Michigan (24-5, 11-5 Big Ten) had been 4-1 in road games before losing their last four - all in February. The Wolverines ended the month with last Wednesday's road loss to a Penn State team which had been winless in conference play.
A perimeter-oriented team, Michigan went 3-4 in February and had some critics highlighting the team's perceived lack of physicality as a potentially major flaw come the postseason. Coach John Beilein's team was outrebounded by an average of 2.3 per game last month compared to an average margin of plus-4.3 on the season.
The Wolverines stymied those criticisms - at least for one game - in a gutsy 58-57 win over then-No. 9 Michigan State on Sunday.
"We've been edging closer and closer to it every practice this year," Beilein said. " ... So for us to actually go out and do what we did - and there's still some areas to clean up - to do what we did in that game against one of the more physically demanding teams, is a lot for us, to understand, 'OK, I survived it. I can do it, and I can be better at it.'
" ... It will hopefully define this team even more down the road because they'll grow from it."
Winning without 3-point shooting - Michigan was 0 for 12 from beyond the arc - also was a major step forward, as the club has been able to regularly rely on hitting plenty of those shots. The Wolverines rank second in the Big Ten in 3-point percentage at 38.5.
They should expect much better production from beyond the arc Wednesday, as freshman Nik Stauskas - who knocks down a team-best 45.8 percent of his 3-pointers - is expected to play. He suffered a cut above his left eye four minutes into the Michigan State game and did not return.
The Boilermakers (14-15, 7-9) also are coming off possibly their most impressive win of the season. They used a 21-3 run in the second half to knock off then-No. 17 Wisconsin on the road, 69-56 on Sunday.
Purdue has defended particularly well in its last three games, limiting opponents to 52.3 points per game on 33.3 percent field-goal shooting.
"I thought we did a lot of little things," said coach Matt Painter, whose next win will be the 200th of his career.
Purdue, led by six 3-pointers from D.J. Byrd, rallied from a 13-point deficit.
"For us, this game was huge, not just because we won at Wisconsin, which is almost impossible to do, but it was how we did it," Painter said. "... It's a real tribute to our guys, just staying with it at this time of the year."
Michigan claimed a 68-53 home win over Purdue on Jan. 24 as Trey Burke scored a game-high 15 points with eight assists and the Wolverines shot 49.1 percent.
They had lost six straight in West Lafayette by an average of 15.4 points before a 66-64 victory there last January.
The Associated Press News Service
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