The one 3-pointer Moritz Wagner had made in his college basketball career, prior to Friday, came on Thanksgiving Day against Charlotte, a 102-47 laugher in the Bahamas that was over almost as soon as it started.
Precedent be damned, Wagner had the guts to attempt a big one during Michigan’s stunning 72-69 upset over No. 10 Indiana when he found himself alone at the top of the key in the first half. Lucky for Wagner, the shot went in.
“When he took that first 3, everybody on that bench was shocked,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “But that’s who he is. He just has great confidence. It was not a play for him to shoot a 3 — it was a (play) to get space and run a ball screen. He just shoots it in, so I just smile, because you can see what he can do down the road.”
Beilein might have smiled once Wagner’s shot went in, but he wasn’t smiling as he saw the 18-year-old German wind up. Wagner has seen sparse game action throughout the Big Ten season, and when he has, it hasn’t been his job to shoot from distance.
Beilein has spoken of Wagner’s flash-in-the-pan nature as a player throughout the year, providing a common refrain: In one moment, Wagner will make fans wonder what he’s doing on the court. In the next, he’ll do something so unexpectedly dazzling that fans will wonder if two different players are inhabiting the same body.
The first-half 3-pointer was another example of Wagner’s unpredictability, especially given that he doesn’t have permission from his coaches to wind up for 3-pointers on set plays, even if he has the space.
“No, he doesn’t have the green light,” Beilein said. “Absolutely not. But he decided to take it. I say, ‘You have the green light if it goes in.’ Right? That’s good for a guy to have that type of (mentality).”
Wagner found himself playing the most meaningful minutes of his career Friday, largely since sophomore forward Ricky Doyle suffered a sprained ankle at the end of Michigan’s win over Northwestern on Thursday, limiting him against the Hoosiers.
The injury opened the door for Wagner to get substantial run as he finished with nine points in 16 minutes. But he says his mindset during the final minutes of a game that likely determined the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament fate was no different from his mentality in any other appearance this season. His answers haven’t changed much, either.
“It’s not really a change of (mindset),” Wagner said. “I’m just trying to go out there, if it’s practice or games, and just help the team as much as I can, give my best. That pays off, eventually. I’m just happy, especially for the win.”