Freshmen set tempo in Wolverines' victory over Indiana
Jay-Z’s “U Don’t Know” blared amongst a chorus of cheers from a packed Crisler Center crowd.
The Michigan men’s basketball team was only going through introductions for its Saturday afternoon matchup against Indiana, but the intensity was the highest it had been so far this season. Big Ten play doesn’t normally start this early, but the conference matchup aura was surely alive.
It would be fair if the higher stakes caused a few extra nerves. But for the Wolverines’ freshmen, that wasn’t the case.
In Michigan’s win over the Hoosiers (0-1 Big Ten, 4-4 overall), Eli Brooks, Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers combined for 28 of the Wolverines’ (1-0, 7-2) 69 points — 19 of which came from Poole — as they continued to showcase aggressiveness atypical of a first-year player.
“We’ve seen it a little bit in practice, but not a lot in practice because they’re still growing every day. … I love these three freshman now. I love them. They still make me angry almost everyday,” Beilein said with a smile.
An unbridled confidence is nothing new for Poole, and having increased his playing time each of the past three games — he had 27 minutes against Indiana — you could say it’s treating him and Michigan kindly.
“I think you saw a young guy play with great confidence as he got going early,” said Indiana coach Archie Miller. “For him to hit five threes in his first Big Ten game … that’s unbelievable.”
Poole led the Wolverines in both scoring and energy. The guard essentially started Saturday, substituting in for Charles Matthews just 14 seconds into the game after an early foul. Following a 3-pointer from fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson, Poole knocked one down on the next possession. Less than 90 seconds later, the shooting guard hit another.
“I was like, ‘It’s time to lock in,’ ” Poole said. “Especially coming off a loss at North Carolina, nobody’s shots were falling, it was just time to lock in. … I feel like I kinda sneaked up on them a little bit.”
But Poole wasn’t done yet. At the 9:23 mark in the first half, junior forward Moritz Wagner found a cutting Poole from the top of the key for an easy layup. Just 3 minutes prior, Wagner found Livers on a similar play for an open layup. It was a sign for Michigan coach John Beilein: the freshmen are getting it, and sooner than expected.
“It’s been great seeing us grow as a group and as individuals. That’s been good,” Brooks said. “… The confidence from the older guys have in you and the other freshmen (helps). The confidence that the coaches have, that really helps.”
Poole is also customarily the most theatrical celebrator on the bench, but with more contributions coming on the court, he found himself waving his arms up and down to liven the crowd after he hit a side-step trey.
And in Brooks’ sixth straight start, he once again proved why he should be manning the ‘1.’ Brooks notched a career-best six assists, including the kickout to Poole for his first three of the game. The 6-foot-1 guard also demonstrated his knockdown ability, drilling a stepback jumper as the shot clock wound down late in the first half.
“We’ve seen this ability to think to the next play,” Beilein said. “Not all of his fundamentals are there, but his mind is there and just he’s learning how to do it. For a freshman to play against a fifth-year guy and have six assists and no turnovers, that was really a big step for him.”
Livers’ statline was quieter than Brooks’ and Poole’s, but he helped shore up a frontcourt defense of Wagner and Robison that allowed 36 of Indiana’s 55 points in the paint. Livers also had a steal-turned-fastbreak-layup in the first half, an opportunity that was swatted out his hands against North Carolina.
Beilein had reiterated at the postgame press conference that his team will consistently come out firing and that it was only a matter of time. On Saturday afternoon, nine games into the season and in large part thanks to his freshmen, his words were coming to life.