Before Indiana men’s basketball’s win against No. 4 Purdue on Thursday night, head coach Mike Woodson knew he would need to lean on senior center Michael Durr to play big minutes.
Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis was injured in the game before, and the Boilermakers boasted one of the best big-man duos in the country with sophomore center Zach Eady starting and senior forward Trevion Williams coming off the bench.
Durr stepped up defensively and helped Indiana hold Eady and Williams to just 14 combined points, less than half of the 29 points per game they came into the game averaging. Durr played a season-high 24 minutes in the win, totaling 4 points, two blocks and two steals.
At a press conference Saturday, Durr said making the game difficult for Eady and Williams was the goal coming in.
“I just wanted to make everything tough (on them) because they’re the horses on that team, along with (Jaden) Ivey,” Durr said. “Everything really started with them, so we wanted to kind of hold them off and lock them down.”
Normally, it would be Jackson-Davis’ responsibility to lead the charge against a formidable big-man duo, but his injury and early foul trouble meant he played just 12 minutes and only scored 4 points.
Durr came into the Purdue matchup playing less than 7 minutes per game for Indiana, but through practice and staying ready mentally he was able to rise to the occasion. He started 85 of his 87 games at the University of South Florida, so backup isn’t a role Durr is used to, and he said Saturday he’s always ready to play.
“For a player not to play as much as he has been in the past and to come out here and compete with those guys and a top-five team in the nation, it shows a lot,” senior guard Xavier Johnson said after the game Thursday.
It doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet for Durr, but his contributions in practice have helped Indiana to its 14-4 record and given Jackson-Davis the opportunity to train against big men like he’ll see in the Big Ten.
As a 7-foot center, Durr said he thinks Jackson-Davis, who is averaging 18.7 points per game, has improved and become more confident going against big men because they go against each other in practice. In turn, Durr feels his game has improved as a result of practicing against Jackson-Davis as well.
Outside of practice, however, the Hoosiers will need Durr to have more performances like he had last game. Woodson said the reason he brought in Durr, who committed to transfer in May 2021, was to match up with the size they’ll face in the Big Ten.
“We're going to need that the rest of the way,” Woodson said Thursday. “There are other teams in the Big Ten that are just as big, maybe not as big, but got big bodies.”
Durr has spent much of this season working his way back from a knee injury he suffered in the summer, which forced him to miss Indiana’s season opener against Eastern Michigan University. Durr said he’s not where he wants to be in regards to his health and conditioning, but he’s doing everything he can to get there.
Still, Durr stepped up in what he called the biggest game he’s ever been a part of. He said he’ll always remember taking down Purdue and watching the fans storm the court, something he’s never been a part of before.
“It was a good moment for the players confidence wise and just a great moment for the fans and the community around here,” Durr said.
From here on out, Durr said the Hoosiers’ goal is to play well consistently and not suffer a hangover after big wins like they’ve had earlier in the season. They’ll have the opportunity to do that at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Bloomington against the Michigan Wolverines, who have struggled on the road this season.
However, Indiana will face another talented big man in 7-foot-1-inch sophomore center Hunter Dickinson when Michigan comes to town. Dickinson averages 16.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, and he’s gone 6 for 19 from 3-point range this season, which will force Indiana’s big men to guard him on the perimeter.
Dickinson poses another handful the Hoosiers will have to deal with, and Durr’s role in that game will likely depend on Jackson-Davis’ health and ability to stay out of foul trouble. However, Durr proved Thursday he’s up for the challenge if his name is called.