LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Charles Matthews drove into the lane, pump-faked to get Texas A&M forward Tonny Trocha-Morelos in the air, leaned into him to draw the foul and hit the layup for the and-one.
The redshirt sophomore wing turned to his bench, flexing.
A minute later, he hit another layup and turned to his teammates again.
“They can’t guard me!”
There was 12:11 left in the game, and the Michigan men’s basketball team was now up 25. Matthews’ exclamation was true for him, it was true for all the Wolverines and it was true for the entire game.
Michigan finished the game shooting just under 62 percent from the floor, and it dominated the Aggies for 40 minutes straight, winning, 99-72. Matthews ended up with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and tied for the team-high with five rebounds.
Matthews’ performance is even more impressive when you consider where he’s been. Everybody knows his story: from Kentucky, where he struggled to find minutes, to a pronounced role with the Wolverines.
But even this season, Matthews’ growth is pronounced.
He started the year hot, but his 17 points per game that once led the team dwindled game after game beginning in December. Coming into Thursday’s matchup, he was down to 12.8 points per game.
Matthews wasn’t being strong with the ball, and he wasn’t taking or making as many shots as he was early in the season.
In fact, his shot against Trocha-Morelos showcased a specific skillset that he’s worked on tirelessly.
“Charles was a one-foot — you’ve heard me say — Bambi-on-ice. He’d go in there all out of control,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “He worked for hard for the next month with assistant coaches, with myself, of getting in there and landing on two and faking people.
“And we had trouble with it. ‘Coach, I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can do this.’ And it’s really changed his game.”
And Matthews’ reemergence couldn’t be coming at a better time.
In the First Round of the NCAA Tournament, against Montana, Matthews scored a team-high 20. It was an important contribution on a night where the rest of the Michigan offense couldn’t hit anything.
He performed well again Thursday.
His return to the form he once had has helped him get to a place he’s never been: the Elite Eight.
“It hasn’t hit me,” Matthews said about his journey. “I feel I’m so locked in right now. I want to win it all, and when you want to win it all, you’ve gotta take one step at a time. So, we’re just climbing that mountain. We can’t be looking out at the top, you’ve gotta focus on that next step. Because that’s when you fall off it if you don’t. So, we just really, whatever step we’re on, we want to conquer that and get ready for the next one.”
But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way.
After Jordan Poole sent the Wolverines to the Sweet Sixteen, it would have been impossible to calm Matthews down. Intermittently, whether he was being interviewed or not, he would yell at his locker. He called and FaceTimed seemingly everyone he knows, making the most out of the celebration.
On Thursday, some of that positive energy seemed to carry over. He was flexing and yelling and smiling on the court as he and the rest of the team diced up Texas A&M.
It’s the joy of somebody who might not believe where they’re at.
“I think it brings people out of it this time of year,” said fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson on Matthews’ enthusiasm. “He’s been awesome all year, and he’s totally bought in, which everyone expected him to. But to have guys like that in this locker room, this locker room’s full of them. And it makes runs like this and games like that just that much more fun.”