Michigan appears to have regained its outside shooting touch at a time it may really need it.
The Wolverines' ability to score from the perimeter could be critical to the outcome of Saturday's game with 18th-ranked Purdue, which enters the Crisler Center with confidence off its signature win of the season and recent success in the series.
Both teams enter this key Big Ten matchup off important victories that moved each within two games of first place. Michigan (18-7, 8-4) halted a two-game skid with Wednesday's 82-74 win at Minnesota, and Purdue (20-5, 8-4) ended five years of frustration against Michigan State by outlasting the No. 8 Spartans 82-81 in an overtime thriller Tuesday.
The Boilermakers, 0-3 against Top 25 teams coming in, received huge efforts from their two senior starters to stop a seven-game series skid. Raphael Davis went 6 of 8 from 3-point range while tying a career high with 24 points in 43 minutes, and center A.J. Hammons recorded eight blocks along with 19 points and 13 rebounds in a season-high 32 minutes.
"Keeping those guys going and keeping them making plays was huge for us this game," coach Matt Painter said. "Both of them were pretty gassed."
Hammons' presence keyed Purdue's 42-39 rebounding advantage on the Spartans, the leader among all major conference teams in rebounding margin. The Boilermakers are close behind at plus-11.4 and are the only Division I program yet to be outrebounded.
Purdue's size has been an issue for perimeter-oriented Michigan in the last two matchups. The Boilermakers have won both by double digits, outscoring the Wolverines 74-24 in the paint and limiting them to a combined 31.1 percent inside the arc.
Hammons totaled 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting with four blocks in an 87-70 home win Jan. 7. Michigan shot 31.9 percent and was outrebounded 44-22 in a 64-51 loss at Mackey Arena last season.
The Wolverines were outscored 44-26 in the paint by Minnesota but held off the last-place Golden Gophers behind a 14-of-25 effort on 3s. They improved to 12-1 when making more than 10 3-pointers and 11-0 when topping their season average of 40.9 percent.
Michigan shot 29.6 percent from beyond the arc over its previous three games that included home losses to ranked foes Indiana and Michigan State.
Duncan Robinson, second in the Big Ten in 3-point shots made (77) and percentage (48.1), was 2 of 13 over that stretch before finishing 4 of 7 against Minnesota. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, 1 of 11 from 3 over his previous four, had three triples while going 5 of 5 from the field for 16 points.
Derrick Walton Jr. had a career-high 26 points along with eight rebounds and seven assists, helping Michigan hold on after the Gophers cut a 19-point deficit to two with 1:37 left.
"We were good enough to make the right plays at the end," coach John Beilein said. "If you look, unfortunately as I do way too often, at the dark side of this one - if we lose this game then it's going to be very difficult. We needed this win."
Michigan was in need of momentum entering a challenging three-game sequence. The Wolverines visit Ohio State on Tuesday before traveling to No. 2 Maryland, whom Michigan defeated Jan. 12 for its lone win in seven games against ranked opponents.
The Wolverines have played five of those contests and 11 straight overall with leading scorer Caris LeVert sidelined by a lower leg injury. The senior guard increased his practice participation this week, though his return remains unclear.