Point guard Zavier Simpson rescued No. 19 Michigan during a double-overtime thriller against Purdue on Thursday.
Simpson and the Wolverines will seek their second straight Big Ten victory when they visit Minnesota on Sunday afternoon.
Simpson equaled his season high with 22 points, including 14 in the final minute of regulation and the two overtime sessions of an 84-78 Wolverines win against the Boilermakers.
“It wasn’t really about me scoring,” Simpson told the team’s website. “It was about doing what’s needed to put my team in the best position to win. At the end of the day, I felt they were kind of laying off and I saw heads turning. It was a clear lane with no one in the gaps. Lanes were open and I had to drive. So, I had to make something happen and beat my man downhill.”
Simpson, who also dished out nine assists, played a whopping 49 minutes on Thursday. He’s averaging 12.1 points and 8.9 assists in his senior year.
“I have one of the best point guards in college basketball,” first-year coach Juwan Howard said. “We have one of the best leaders in college basketball, and one of the toughest competitors in college basketball, a kid that has been counted out so many times, but rises to the occasion when needed, and trusts himself. We trust him and his teammates follow his lead and energy. He’s always active with effort.”
The Wolverines (11-4 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) have a relatively quick turnaround as they seek to snap a three-game road losing streak. They were defeated by Illinois and Michigan State in their first two conference road games.
Michigan last season defeated Minnesota three times, including a 76-49 win in the Big Ten tournament. Forward Isaiah Livers led the Wolverines in scoring that day with 21 points but he’s expected to miss his third straight game on Sunday due a groin injury.
The Golden Gophers (8-7, 2-3) also came up empty in a trip to East Lansing, where the Spartans defeated them 74-58 on Thursday.
Center Daniel Oturo (19.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg) delivered another strong performance with 22 points and 10 rebounds but Minnesota was limited to 39-percent shooting by the Spartans.
The Golden Gophers also struggled on the boards, getting outrebounded 48-30. Michigan State had 19 offensive rebounds.
“They just bullied us on the glass and it just wore us out,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “We were doing a lot of good things but we just could not finish the possession. That’s nothing new with them; that’s what they do. They keep coming at you and if you don’t block them out – they’ve got such great size and physicality they are going to make you pay.”
Simpson’s counterpart on Sunday, sophomore Marcus Carr (15.5 ppg., 6.9 apg.), had 11 points and six assists at Michigan State but was limited to 27 minutes due to foul trouble. Carr has been whistled for four or more fouls in four of the last five games.
“Obviously, Marcus Carr getting in foul trouble really hurt us and we just tried to find a way to get through it,” Pitino said. “We will learn from the block out part of it, it was certainly a focal point and we didn’t execute there, so we’ve got to get better.”
–Field Level Media