by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It was as pointless as shooting rubber bands at a tank. Here came the Purdue Boilermakers, and Michigan tried to — swish! — oops never mind, now here they came again, put a hand in their faces — swish! — oops, never mind, now came the break, stop it before — swish! — oops, we better — swish! swish!

Forget it. If Purdue shoots like this the rest of the way, you can wrap up the Big Ten title in black and gold paper. Right now. You better hurry — swish! — up.

“Have you ever seen shooting like that from an opposing team on your home court?” someone asked Terry Mills, the Michigan center, after Purdue tommy-gunned Michigan’s Big Ten Title dreams, 91-73, Wednesday night.

He shook his head. “It was like everything they threw up went in. They’d run off 43 seconds on the 45-second clock, then hit a jumper with someone’s hand in their face. I’ve never seen shooting like that.”

Nor has anyone else. At least not at Crisler Arena. The Boilermakers showed why they are undefeated in the Big Ten this season (8-0), shattering the shooting mark for Crisler the way an opera singer shatters glass.

Did anyone check to see where this team practices? Are we sure the players don’t bus up here when we’re not looking? Three-pointers. Running jumpers. The ball went in as if these were their childhood rims, hanging from telephone poles.

Check this out: 70 percent. That was Purdue’s shooting from the floor. Not for one hot half. For the whole game! And that includes 11-for-21 from leading scorer Tony Jones, which, under normal circumstances, is a pretty good night. But take him out of the picture and Purdue missed just five shots all game.

Poor Tony. If he keeps this up, they’ll bench him. The 70 percent solution

“We got whipped,” said Michigan coach Steve Fisher, who, in addition to losing his first-ever home game at Michigan, and suffering the worst Michigan defeat in five years, and seeing the Wolverines’ Big Ten record drop to 5-3 — also had to endure a disheartening final scene: His players failed to even chase the Boilermakers in the final 30 seconds as Purdue raced down and stuffed it. Fisher called an embarrassing time-out to scold his young men.

“He didn’t like it, let’s leave it at that,” said a shrugging Rumeal Robinson, when asked what Fisher said. And yet, in a way, how could you blame the players? This was so obvious a slaughter that resistance, however noble, was about as effective as catching bullets.

Sure, maybe the Wolverines didn’t stick all night on defense. But Purdue made the shots. Sure, maybe Michigan missed some open jumpers. But Purdue made the shots. Any coach will tell you if you make your shots, you can do almost anything. Hey. Seventy percent? The Pistons would have trouble defending that.

Let us point out something. Michigan shot 50 percent itself. That’s not exactly brick city. The problem was, the Wolverines fell behind early, and every time they mounted some sort of rally, Purdue sliced back. Three-pointer. Turnaround jumper.

“You know, we’ve never been a great defensive team since I’ve been here,” said Robinson. “We attack with our offense. We figure they’ll get their 60 or 80, but we’ll get more.”

Not this time. The only way Michigan was going to outscore Purdue was after the Boilermakers’ bus left. Mr. Inside, Mr. Outside

Now it’s true there were some who felt Purdue’s record was misleading, that

the talent didn’t match the numbers. “Michigan will show them,” people figured.

It was the other way around. The Boilermakers may not glitter on the roster sheet, but they run a disciplined offense, they are patient, and they seem to have a few key weapons. One is Jones, Mr. Outside, who seems to enjoy staring into other players’ hands when he shoots. The other is center Steve Scheffler, Mr. Inside, a strong, thick, lane-dweller, who considers a four-footer an outside shot. No wonder he leads the Big Ten in shooting percentage (83.6 percent). A friend of his offered to buy him a pizza if he ever took a three-pointer during a game.

“I’ll never taste that pizza,” he admitted.

And, likewise, the Wolverines will not taste a conference championship, not this year, not unless something weird happens. The fact is, the Wolverines had better concentrate on getting NCAA-tournament tough, because, unless Michigan State (5-2 in the conference) can pull off a big upset Saturday in West Lafayette, this race is almost over. Swish! Swish!

“This was a big game, and usually, when we play a big game, we come out with our game face on,” said Robinson. “But for some reason we didn’t have it tonight. We felt sluggish. And with them shooting like that, well, it was frustrating.”

Frustrating and final. The Wolverines are far from finished, of course. They have plenty of glory still available. And I’m sure they want to get back to practice right away.

But if they’re going to do it at Crisler, they better wait a few days. It may take that long for the rims to cool off.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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