Facing an early 12-6 deficit Tuesday night against Ohio State, John Beilein pulled Jordan Poole aside during Michigan’s first timeout to give his sophomore guard a quick word of advice. “The only mistake you could make now,” Beilein told Poole, “would be to stop shooting.”
Poole, of course, needed no such instruction.
At his first chance out of the timeout, Poole caught a cross-court pass from junior guard Zavier Simpson and — despite having missed his first two 3-point attempts of the game and 21 of his past 26 — let go. Again, it clanked off the back of the rim. Seconds later, after an offensive rebound, Poole tried his luck once more. And again, it rimmed out. But the ball found its way back to Simpson and, armed with all the trust in the world, he hit Poole open on the wing.
This time, his shot found nothing but net.
“A lot of people would stop shooting after the first one then just kinda hesitate the second time,” Poole said. “But I’m a shooter. So being able to get looks like that is very rare.”
Added Beilein: “When he shoots and misses a few times, it’s not so bad. We know he’s gonna make them eventually.”
The Wolverines’ 3-point shooting funk, though, had extended far beyond Poole. A 35-percent team from deep on the season, they had shot under 30 percent in four of the past six games, bottoming out in a 3-for-22 performance against Minnesota last week.
For a team averaging 71.4 points per game on the season, the difference was obvious. Before its Jan. 19 loss to Wisconsin, Michigan had not scored under 60 points in a game in the prior two months and had finished with under 70 just three times. And then — suddenly marred by a bout of unexpected 3-point woes — they posted consecutive games in the 50s.
So with the threat of another offensive impasse looming, Beilein’s voice was not the only one filling Michigan’s huddle during that first timeout. Simpson — frustrated with the touch on his own shot — rallied his teammates.
“Yo, just stay locked in, stay ready,” Simpson said. “I’m gonna get y’all open, I’m gonna find y’all. We gonna make sure we get good shots.”
As usual, he made good on his promise. First, it was the repeated looks for Poole. Then, a swing pass to sophomore forward Isaiah Livers in the corner. Minutes later, he found redshirt junior forward Charles Matthews on a kick out, followed by a push pass to freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis in transition.
“Just being able to have a point guard who’s willing to get everybody else open and try to get us the best possible look even if his (shooting) isn’t going the right way,” Poole said. “Just being able to stay solid and find other ways to get assists.”
And just like that — on the back of four assists from their point guard and four ensuing daggers from deep — the Wolverines displayed their most impressive offensive basketball in weeks and turned a five-point deficit into a four-point lead that they would never relinquish.
The barrage continued into the second half, as the Buckeyes — who opened the game in a zone defense designed to force Michigan to shoot — could offer little resistance, allowing that four-point deficit to quickly balloon into a 20-point hole. As is so often the case, the Wolverines had their 3-point shooting to thank.
“When you see us with 10 made threes,” Beilein said, “it’s usually a W.”