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February 08, 2019 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily

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8 — Friday, February 8, 2019
The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com

Matthews holds key to offense

When he steps in front of
by nature, is quiet — both by
the volume of his voice and the
substance of his words.
On the night of Jan. 22, though,
after Matthews hit a buzzer-beater
to pull Michigan over Minnesota in
a game it had no business winning,
a throng of media surrounded him
and, in the most unlikely setting
possible, he started to divulge.
The Wolverines played poorly
that night, nearly blowing what
should have been an easy home
win thanks to a listless offense, as
had Matthews himself. Buzzer-
beater aside, seven points on
3-of-7 shooting and a 76 offensive
rating, as measured by KenPom,
wasn’t going to cut it. Neither was
anything else Michigan did that
night — the second game in a row
it hadn’t looked like itself.
Matthews, an internal leader,
started to explain why.
(Simpson) told us as well, we
kinda gotta loosen up,” he said.
“We kinda playing kinda tense out
there. We understand we wanna
have a perfect season. We wanna
win, but we still gotta be out there

playing with smiles on our faces,
having fun and competing to win
Wolverines have lost in two
rating, nor should it surprise
that their offense has generally
lagged when he has struggled.
The reason behind that is simple.
When Michigan’s offense lags, it
falls back on Matthews. In turn,
Matthews falls back on contested
midrange jump shots, which don’t
do much for anyone.
That’s why, as the Wolverines
jumped out to an early lead on as
part of a 77-65 win over Rutgers
on Tuesday night, their offense
greasing the skids.
When the Scarlet Knights cut
the lead to 10 — seeming to weather
Michigan’s initial onslaught —
Matthews nailed a three on the
right wing. Then he came off his
man to block Geo Baker. Then he
went to the midrange, nailing a
fadeaway jumper.
In a half where the Wolverines
scored 1.43 points per possession,
that was the only midrange shot
Matthews took for the first 15
Take what you will from a

Tuesday in Piscataway. But this is
what Matthews — and by proxy,
Michigan’s offense — will look like
in March if the Wolverines are to
live up to their potential.
“He’s gotta embrace, just, this
thing right now,” said Michigan
coach John Beilein on Tuesday.
“He’s in his fourth year playing
interesting decisions at the end
of the year. He just needs to do
exactly what he’s doing today. Just
go attack. Enjoy every game, take
the ball to the basket. Shoot the
open three when you got it. And
that — those turnaround shots at
the beginning looked like, ‘Oh my
god, we’re back at Villanova,’ right?
The way he started that game.”
Matthews’ defense will buoy
Michigan on his worst day. As it
relates to the Wolverines’ ceiling,
and Matthews’ NBA prospects, all
that is set in stone.
It’s the rest that’s in question.
A relatively unassuming 11-point
performance can provide one hell
of an answer.
“That’s who he is,” Beilein
said. “That’s why you saw me.
I grabbed him and I looked at
him. I said, ‘That’s who you
are, Charles. That’s who you
are. And don’t think anything
different.’ ”

Tale of the tape: ‘M’ offense
comes alive against Rutgers

Rutgers’ plan to upset the
straightforward: funnel the ball
inside and scrap for close buckets,
while packing the lane on defense
and forcing the Wolverines to hit
enough jumpers to beat them.
Offensively, the strategy was
quite successful, as big men
Eugene Omoruyi, Myles Johnson
and Shaquille Doorson combined
for 37 points on 16-for-30 shooting.
Defensively, it was another
story. Michigan nailed 47 percent
of its 3-pointers and scored 1.17
points per possession to hold off
the Scarlet Knights, 77-66.
Despite not resulting in a win
for the home team, the gameplan
was a logical one — and a few days
ago, it might have even worked.
Friday night, Iowa overwhelmed
the Wolverines in the paint, and
on the other end, sat back in a zone
to dare them to shoot. Michigan
obliged, but hit just eight of 33
treys in a 15-point loss.
What changed?
Knocking down open shots
was one part of the equation, but
getting them in the first place
was just as important. The Daily
took to the tape to look at what
went into the Wolverines’ best
offensive performance in nearly
a month.
Ignas Brazdeikis gets going:
Per a tweet from The Athletic’s
Brendan Quinn, when Brazdeikis
hits his first 3-pointer, he averages
18.4 points per game on 53 percent
shooting, as opposed to 13.1 points
and 41 percent otherwise.
Without knowing why this
difference exists, any statistic
like this should be taken with a
few grains of salt. But it’s still too
massive to ignore.
Anyway, the freshman forward
drilled his first shot on Tuesday.
He finished with 23 points and a
career-high five 3-pointers. Quite
the coincidence.
On that possession, he was
matched up with Omoruyi — his
former high school teammate —
on the left wing. It was a simple
read for Brazdeikis as junior
center Jon Teske came down to set
a pick. Omoruyi went underneath
the screen, deciding he was better
off taking his chances with a pull-
up three instead of his 240-pound
frame sticking with the nimbler
Brazdeikis on the perimeter, as
well as wanting to take away
Teske rolling to the hoop.
“They definitely didn’t prepare
for my 3-point shot, I feel like,”
Brazdeikis said. “They didn’t
close out as hard, and they left me
Big mistake.
To be fair, it wasn’t as if there
was a right answer. Throughout
the game, Brazdeikis sat outside
looking to dance to the rim,
waiting for the Scarlet Knight bigs
to join him. More often than not,
they couldn’t keep up with the
Last season, the pick-and-pop
with Moritz Wagner was one
of Michigan’s offensive staples.
Against Rutgers, the Wolverines
utilized it to great effect.
the ‘4’ in Michigan’s offense, and

his combination of slashing and
outside shooting makes him a
matchup nightmare, especially
against a mostly paint-bound
Scarlet Knights squad. Nowhere
was this mismatch more evident
than in the ball screen game.
“What Rutgers does, and this
is very common, is they’re gonna
choose to play with two big guys,”
said Michigan coach John Beilein.
“And it’s very difficult for them to
switch at the four position.”
As a result, Brazdeikis ended
up with two warmup jumpers
midway through the second half.
Omoruyi wasn’t quite quick
enough, or in position, to be able
to close out effectively on either.
The next time the Wolverines
tried the pick-and-pop, Omoruyi
closed out, and junior point guard
Zavier Simpson blew past him for
a layup.
“I thought we played well in
the second half, but you can’t
get yourself in a hole against
a team ranked in the top five,”
said Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell.
“Every time we made a mistake
on the defensive end, they made
us pay.”
That was one of those mistakes,
as Geo Baker did himself no favors
by completely giving up on the play
— though that may have stemmed
whose closeout on Brazdeikis was
far too late. But the main point of
the previous play is to show the
dilemma that the Scarlet Knights
faced in defending this action.
Simpson — who finished with 14
points, seven rebounds and seven
assists — has been elite at making
plays when getting downhill,
either from finding the open man
off the pick-and-roll and pick-and-
pop or with his signature hook
shot. Rutgers decided that taking
away Simpson’s penetration was
the smartest strategy in defending
the ball screen, giving up multiple
wide-open looks in the process.
That’s the luxury of having one of
the country’s most unique players;
a barely 6-foot-tall point guard
who’s also an elite finisher.
Charles Matthews blows the
game open:
For about five minutes, the
redshirt junior wing was the best
player on the court.
With 15:22 to play in the first
half, he took advantage of some
poor scouting. Matthews prefers
to drive towards the baseline off
the side pick-and-roll, but Montez
Mathis forgot this momentarily
as Matthews shook him with a
slight hesitation to the right. No
Scarlet Knight was close to being
in position to cut off his drive.
Matthews’ jumper has come
and gone this season, but he
knocked down two free throws
after drawing a foul on a baseline
inbounds play two minutes later.
On Michigan’s next possession,
he stepped into, and swished, a
confident 3-pointer.
teammates had sensed he was
feeling it, and cleared entirely
out of the way for him to attempt
one of his favorite shots, a 14-foot
turnaround that’s as unblockable
as it is inconsistent. This time, it
dropped in.
Matthews scored just two
points the rest of the way, but his
dominating stretch turned out to
be critical. After the Wolverines

took a 17-point lead nine minutes
outscored them 55-50.
Michigan finds success in
“Sometimes, fast break, we
shouldn’t even do it,” Beilein said
after Michigan beat Minnesota on
Jan. 22. “Because we’re jogging
up the court. We gotta sprint. We
don’t run. … You end up getting
scores in the 50s and 60s if you’re
not willing to bust your butt to get
up the court.”
Against the Scarlet Knights,
the Wolverines not only sprinted
in transition, but showed strong
positioning and patience when
they were unable to get a bucket
Often, it started with — who
else? — Simpson. Off a long
rebound three minutes into the
game, he was decisive but steady
in pushing the ball up the court,
his penetration drawing Omoruyi
to help under the basket. The
product was an easy corner trey,
as Simpson fired the bounce pass
to Brazdeikis at exactly the right
Simpson rebound led to fast-
break points. Before the rebound
even landed in Simpson’s hands,
sophomore guard Jordan Poole
was off and running. Poole’s
the entire Rutgers defense, and
Simpson hit him in stride.
of the game, coming with seven
minutes left in the first half,
wasn’t a fast break. But its roots
stemmed from transition, where
Brazdeikis steamed up the middle
in anticipation of a breakout.
Meanwhile, Poole spaced the play
well near the left wing.
While the Scarlet Knights got
back to defend the fast break, part
of successful transition offense is
the ability to know when to run
and when to pull out and set up
the halfcourt attack. Simpson
saw he didn’t have an immediate
play and didn’t force the issue,
and from there, dribble-drive
penetration, a smart cut by
Matthews and unselfish passing
led to three points.
Early in the second half, the
exhibited more good spacing, as
Simpson ran in his lane and forced
Baker to stay on him. Brazdeikis
fired a pass to Matthews, who
simply beat everyone down the
court. The pass was inch-perfect,
right over Baker’s fingertips, but
without Simpson sprinting out
wide, Baker would have been able
to play free safety and come up
with a likely steal.
Six minutes into the second
half, Simpson pushed the ball hard
up the court and forced Rutgers to
surge downcourt ahead of him.
The Scarlet Knights were rightly
occupied with stopping Simpson,
but failed to notice Poole, the
Wolverines’ best shooter, as the
trailer. The result was a wide-
open triple.
Notice a common denominator
in all of these plays yet?
“Fourteen, seven and seven.
That’s incredible,” Beilein said
after the game, reciting Simpson’s
stat line. “We’ve been really
blessed. It’s probably why we’ve
had any success we’ve had is that
we have really good point guards.
... The point guards make it go.”

Managing Sports Editor

Daily Sports Editor

Junior point guard Zavier Simpson had 14 points, seven assists and seven rebounds on Tuesday against Rutgers.

Despite familiarity of MSU, Boka
found connection at Michigan

When Nick Boka jumped into
a brawl against Michigan State
in the Great Lakes Invitational,
it wasn’t the first time that the
senior bled for the Michigan
hockey team.
From the time he could pick
up a stick, Boka wanted to be
a Wolverine. And both of his
Michigan hockey fans. Many
years back at a Michigan game,
Boka was playing mini-sticks in
the halls behind the bleachers at
Yost Ice Arena.
As he lunged forward with
his stick, Boka crashed into a
picture frame on the wall and
shattered his stick. But after a
team employee picked glass out
of his hair for the rest of the
game, he left the arena that night
not only happy but with a Red
Berenson-signed stick to replace
his old one.
“I don’t remember much of it
but I still have that signed stick
with me,” Boka said. “It’s pretty
After four years on the blue
line for the Wolverines, it’s
hard to imagine him wearing
than a Michigan
when Boka first
to the Spartans.
the defenseman’s
didn’t get an offer right away.
Boka’s former coach with
the Detroit-based Honeybaked
hockey program, Tom Anastos,
was the Spartans’ head coach at
the time, giving him the same
chance to latch on to something
comfortable that he would have
had with the Wolverines. Though
Michigan State went a middling
30-34-11 in Anastos’ first two
seasons at the helm, it was

enough for Boka, who committed
to play in East Lansing during his
freshman year of high school.
“At the time, Tom was the
coach at State when I was going
through the recruiting process,”
Boka said. “... It just felt like the
right move at the right time.”
began to feel differently. While
Michigan spent the better part
century skating
only made the
tournament once
in the six years
prior to Boka’s
had his old coach,
old players he
played against and even some of
his old teammates, but the even
more familiar allure of Michigan
beckoned. Without even being
committed for a full year, he
Once Boka’s choice became
coach Brian Wiseman knew that
Boka wanted to be a Wolverine
and brought him to Ann Arbor.
When Boka saw Berenson, the

coach remembered the signed
stick that he gave Boka, and his
sealed the deal.
“I decommitted on my own
because, as I said it never
felt right,” Boka said. “On my
recruiting visit, (Wiseman) knew
I wanted to be a Wolverine and
wanted to come here. Michigan
was the first school I visited after
I decommitted, and I committed
right away.
“Luckily for me, Wiseman
spoke to me at the right time.
(Michigan State) never felt right
to me, it never felt right in my
heart. He said there’s always a
spot for me at Michigan. So I’m
pretty thankful for him and for
the opportunity to play here. I
couldn’t be happier with how it
all turned out.”
Those former junior hockey
teammates and familiar faces
from East Lansing? They’re
anything but that now. Boka
himself admits that when the two
in-state rivals meet on Friday in
Ann Arbor and Saturday in the
“Duel in the D”, there won’t be
any love lost between the two
For familiarity’s sake, both he
and Michigan wouldn’t have it
any other way.

Daily Sports Writer

Redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews scored 11 points in a 77-65 win on the road at Rutgers on Tuesday.

Senior defenseman Nick Boka committed to MSU prior to coming to UM.

He said there’s
always a spot
for me at

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