BLOOMINGTON — John Beilein didn’t want his team switching.
For a team with an elite defense — one often predicated on doing just that — it seemed like a bold strategy. But, as is often the case, the Michigan men’s basketball coach knew what he was doing.
Beilein wanted redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews on Indiana’s Romeo Langford in every way possible. On Jan. 6 in Ann Arbor, Matthews locked down Langford, and against a Hoosiers team lacking in depth, it was imperative that Langford was once again kept in check. Matthews, a guy who takes every matchup personally, had no qualms with the plan.
“We wanted Charles on (Langford),” Beilein said. “Charles? He likes that.”
If the game in Ann Arbor was part one of Matthews vs. Langford, Friday was part two — and Matthews won this round even more handily than the first.
A shot clock issue caused the PA announcer to verbally count down the time remaining on every Hoosier offensive possession in the first half. For the first seven minutes, the action at that end was a surreal sequence of numbers and bricked shots and boos — so many boos — as Michigan jumped out to a 17-0 lead.
And there in the middle of all of it was Matthews, who had four rebounds before Indiana had a single point and generated chances for his team even through periods of sloppy offensive play.
Langford, meanwhile, had three fouls in the first nine minutes of the game and sat the rest of the half.
“(Matthews is) just a fierce competitor and he knows his angles really well,” said freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis. “He’s also got that reach and athleticism but it’s also the way he defends, you know, he cuts off what you like to do best and he’s quick to knowing what the player does best.”
Back on the court in the second half, Langford started a mini-Indiana run with a layup and the Hoosiers cut the Wolverines’ lead to as little as nine at one point. With Langford on the floor, Indiana’s offense seemed to have the kind of flow it was previously missing.
Then, Matthews was accidentally kicked in the head and lay, reeling, down on all fours before leaving the court briefly as both teams went to timeout.
Instead of leaving injured, Matthews got back up and taunted the Hoosiers even more. He sunk both free throws, then hit a three and then a jump shot just within the arc. By then, Michigan was up 16 and the game was back out of reach for the Hoosiers.
“Anytime we see Charles doing that, it kinda rubs off on myself,” said junior guard Zavier Simpson. “Rubs off on Iggy, rubs off on the rest of the players on the court, we see that, we feel, then just keep it going.”
During their first matchup, Langford still managed to get a little. He still finished with 17 points — low by his standards, maybe, but not by anyone else’s — and found a groove in the second half. On Friday, he scored just nine on 3-for-12 shooting. Thanks primarily to Matthews, one of the top freshmen in the country looked like just another pedestrian.
Langford may have been on his home court, but Matthews looked like the one who had been there before.