The Wolverine

January 2017

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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48 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2017   MICHIGAN BASKETBALL little bit SMU, Marquette-like, that our confidence was back to make shots, to see each other, to trust each other." The Wolverines played two of their best games of the year against the Mustangs and Golden Eagles in cap- turing the 2K Classic title in New York City just before Thanksgiving. Abdur-Rahkman opened the Cen- tral Arkansas game with a three- pointer, but Michigan would miss its next seven before the floodgates opened, hitting nearly half of the rest of their attempts (18 of 37). The ju- nior hit back-to-back triples to give the Wolverines a 10-point lead with just more than 13 minutes remaining in the half. The Wolverines had made nine of their 22 attempts at halftime (40.9 percent) and made 10 of 23 after the break. They broke the school record of 17 triples in a game when fresh- man Ibi Watson connected from the left wing with 3:58 to play, getting a friendly bounce. Walk-on Brent Hibbitts added the exclamation point with the 19th at 3:15. "We had no clue [about the re- cord]," Irvin said. "We saw it when we were on the bench — we saw it pop up on the big screen. It was funny that Brent ended up hitting it. That was awesome to see him make it, but we had no clue at any point of the game. "We knew going into the game that they were going to play a matchup 2-3 zone, so there were going to be a lot of opportunities to be able to knock down our three-pointers. Most of them were pretty open … so we were just taking the normal shots we usually have." The previous school record for three-pointers came against Bryant on Dec. 23, 2015, and the record for attempts was 42, set Dec. 22, 2008 against Florida Gulf Coast. MORITZ WAGNER IS IMPROVING DEFENSIVELY M i c h i g a n s o p h o m o re c e n t e r Moritz Wagner needs to be a net pos- itive on the floor to earn his minutes, head coach John Beilein has said all year, and he's doing that more and more. His offense is improving im- mensely while his defense is follow- ing incrementally. Wagner clinched a 53-50 win over Texas Dec. 6 with a critical blocked BASKETBALL REWIND: NOV. 15-DEC. 13 Record From Nov. 15-Dec. 13: 6-3 Season Record: 8-3 Best Win — 76-54 over SMU, Nov. 18: The Wolverines put on a forceful show in routing Southern Methodist University in the championship game of the 2K Classic benefiting the Wounded Warrior Project. Michigan played with the sort of savvy and efficiency at Madison Square Garden that left game announcers telling everyone to look out for the Wolverines in the Big Ten. A year after getting handled on SMU's home court, Michigan left no doubt, racing to a 44-25 halftime lead and maintaining it throughout the second half. Senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. paced the Wolverines with an aggressive, com- manding effort, scoring an efficient 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting from three- point range while making both his free throws. He dished out six assists, grabbed three rebounds and made a steal along the way. Senior forward Zak Irvin tossed in 16 points with six rebounds and five assists, while junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored 12. A pro-Michigan crowd saw the Wolverines hold SMU to only 37.3 percent shooting while connecting on 52.9 percent themselves. U-M turned the ball over just four times while piling up 16 assists, making for a happy head coach. "I'm proud for them to be up there to get the trophy and to play as well as they did for the last two days," Beilein said. Worst Loss — 73-70 to Virginia Tech, Nov. 30: The Wolverines appeared to be in complete control at home versus what looked like an overmatched foe in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Beilein's crew led by 15 in the first half, and needed only to close out the first half and maintain over the final 20 minutes. It didn't work out that way. The Hokies scrambled back a bit to trail by nine at the half, but still found them- selves behind by 10, 60-50, with 8:13 remaining. Virginia Tech just kept coming, aided by redshirt sophomore forward D.J. Wilson's foul trouble and eventual disqualification via fouls at the 3:03 mark. The Hokies took their first lead of the game, 68-67, with 1:46 left, and held off the Wolverines to steal one on the road. "Thank goodness in the time I've been coaching, we haven't seen too many games like that, where we lead the whole time and we can't make enough stops or finishes at the end," Beilein said. "Virginia Tech's got a really good team. Their shoot the ball well, and their guard play was outstanding. "We just didn't do enough … we were doing some strange things on defense." Breakout Performer — Moritz Wagner: The sophomore German import center recorded his first career game-winning shot in Michigan's 53-50 win over Texas Dec. 6, helping the Wolverines avoid a losing streak during a week in which they had to travel to No. 2 UCLA. Wagner recorded 15 points and five rebounds in that one, stepping forward on a night when offense proved to be in limited supply. Texas head coach Shaka Smart described Wagner as "always in attack mode," and that made the difference for Michigan. Wagner earlier posted a career-high 20 points against Kennesaw State, and threw down a dunk against Marquette that made ESPN SportsCenter's top 10 plays. He was leading the Wolverines with a 54.2 three-point percentage after making two of three against Central Arkansas Dec. 13, a 97-53 Michigan win, on his way to 18 points. Wagner has a ways to go with his defense and rebounding, but he continues to provide a problematic matchup for foes, with his ability to shoot from outside as well as take it to the basket. Freshman Impact — Xavier Simpson: The frosh they call "X" is playing in every game for the Wolverines and just starting to earn a little more high-level action while averaging just less than 10 minutes per game. His two assists and a block in 18 minutes against Marquette certainly stood out, and he grabbed a pair of rebounds in the win over Kennesaw State. He notched seven points, three steals and two assists in the Dec. 13 win over Central Arkan- sas. More importantly, he continued making practice strides that will allow him to see the court more in the coming days. — John Borton

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