Last Saturday, coming off its first loss to South Carolina, the Michigan men’s basketball team needed someone to lead the way in order to put up a strong response in its next game against Mount St. Mary’s. The Wolverines found their man in sophomore forward Moritz Wagner, who rose to the occasion with a 13-point performance — the second-highest total of the night — in a 64-47 win.
Providing the aggressive inside presence Michigan sorely missed against the Gamecocks, Wagner went 5-for-8 from the floor with six rebounds and two blocks, in addition to going 3-for-5 from downtown.
On Saturday, coming off a stunning 73-70 loss to Virginia Tech, the Wolverines needed another boost against Kennesaw State. This time, the same story came to fruition, and then some.
Wagner topped himself against the Owls, setting a new career high with 20 points, as Michigan easily dispatched Kennesaw State, 82-55.
“I just try to stay focused regardless of the opponent, regardless of the situation, and especially after a loss,” Wagner said. “It’s very important for me that the team comes out strong and shows strength because a loss can happen, but two losses hurt way more. So I’m happy we could make these adjustments.”
Scoring 14 of those points in the first half alone to exceed his tally from a week ago, he led the Wolverines in the category. Often finding himself open on the perimeter, Wagner didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Almost half of his points came from distance, where he finished 3-for-4, including a trey to open the game and set the tone for the afternoon. But he was quick to deflect the credit to his teammates for creating space for him to operate.
“They’re all very aggressive (and) they’re all very talented,” Wagner said. “It doesn’t give the defense a lot of opportunity to focus on a certain guy. … The spacing and the way we move, it’s just really hard to guard.”
With a more aggressive approach going to the basket once again, Wagner took charge of the middle. He went after Kennesaw State, slicing his way through the defense and imposing his will in the post. Three of his points also came from the charity stripe.
While the offense isn’t designed to run through him, Wagner has a knack for making his own opportunities. Michigan coach John Beilein has a plethora of offensive weapons to choose from, and Wagner may not have been considered one of the top options before the season began, but he is starting to change that narrative.
“He’s got a great ability to both shoot from the outside (and) drive a little bit, and we’re just trying to find these windows that we could use him offensively,” Beilein said. “He’s just maturing as a player.”
Though he is still figuring out his role on the team, his play at the ‘5,’ which Beilein called “one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, positions on the court,” has become crucially important to the Wolverines of late.
Playing a starring role in both games to help Michigan bounce back from tough losses, Wagner has come up big when the Wolverines needed him the most.