Poole becoming Michigan's go-to scorer

Tuesday, January 8, 2019 - 10:53pm

Sophomore guard Jordan Poole scored 18 points against Indiana on Sunday.

Sophomore guard Jordan Poole scored 18 points against Indiana on Sunday. Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

Two months ago — back when the Michigan men’s basketball team barely cracked the top 20 and before its season had even tipped off — sophomore guard Jordan Poole was anointed as the Wolverines’ star. Redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews and junior guard Zavier Simpson were the leaders, but Poole, seven months removed from the program’s most iconic moment in recent memory, was the face of the team.

Then, freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis stole that title and ran with it. When Michigan made its introduction to the national stage in a 73-46 win at Villanova in mid-November, it was Brazdeikis — not Poole — who shined brightest. Through five games, Poole was averaging just 7.8 points per game, reaching double-digits only once, while Brazdeikis had done so four times.

Since then, Poole hasn’t had a game with under 11 points, transitioning from the enigmatic scorer he was a year ago to the Wolverines’ most reliable weapon.

“Coach (John Beilein) is definitely giving me the green light, but he also trusts me a lot,” Poole said on Sunday. “He wants to put the ball in my hands, and he definitely trusts me on making the right play.”

Added Beilein: “It’s the complete package of having a guy that you got to trust he’s going to learn what good shots are. But you don’t want to take that hunting personality he has away from him.”

In Michigan’s latest dominant win — a 74-63 over Indiana on Sunday — that trust was on full display.

The first half was a showcase of everything Poole offers the Wolverines when he’s at his best. Five minutes into the game, he made back-to-back threes to extend Michigan’s early lead to eight and blow the roof off the Crisler Center, as he did so many times off the bench a year ago.

But after the break, he ran into the type of adversity that would have stymied his effectiveness last season. Each of his three 3-point attempts clanged off the rim and into the hands of a Hoosier.

Instead of frustratedly jacking up more threes, though, Poole responded to each of his misses by going inside the arc and scoring, including a highlight-reel crossover into a mid-range jumper. While his second-half box score didn't have the same pop as his first half, all three makes came after an Indiana basket as the Hoosiers tried to claw back into the game.

“We always look at what the defense is giving us, and we can tell that we were able to pivot past some of the mismatches that we had in the game today,” Poole said. “I feel like we were able to drive more in the second half and space the floor and get threes in the first half.”

Poole’s performance on Sunday was no aberration. In last week’s sluggish 68-55 win over Penn State, he led all scorers with eight points in a low-scoring first half. When Brazdeikis and Matthews made the headlines with 12 points apiece after the break, Poole remained consistent, with nine of his own. Four days earlier, as the Wolverines scuffled to a five-point halftime lead over Binghamton, it was Poole who kept them afloat with 12 first-half points.

For the kid who had a tendency to disappear as a freshman, that ability to perform when he and his team hit adversity has been the biggest difference in Poole’s 10-game double-digit point streak.

“Over the summer, I saw a great growth in what’s important in winning basketball,” Beilein said. “As opposed to the way he probably was playing his freshman year.”

And when he and his team are on?

Well, then he’s still Jordan Poole — with the behind-the-back passes and stepback jumpers to prove it.