BLOOMINGTON — It’s how it was supposed to happen, right?
A raucous sea of red erupting after a made bucket, a crowd waiting for someone — anyone — to make a mistake, or to at least miss a shot, and let its beloved Hoosiers back into the game.
The crowd never got that moment. Instead, it got crowd-silencing threes from Caleb Houstan.
In a game that Michigan needed to win, the talented freshman stepped up time and time again, just as he did in Tuesday’s win over Maryland, to help lead his team to its best victory of the season.
When Houstan was asked postgame to break down his recent shooting form, he didn’t need to say much:
“I mean, it always feels good to make shots,” Houstan said. “I think I’m in a really good place right now.”
He hasn’t always had that feeling, yet, he still remained in the gym, putting shots up, holding firmly onto his confidence.
“He hasn’t changed,” associate head coach Phil Martelli said on Jan. 17, a day before Houstan first snapped his major shooting slump. “He’s still a young guy that… gets a lot of shots up. He works on his game.”
But it was always going to take more than just working on his game during a cold streak. More than practice shots.
Eventually Houstan was going to have to play like he did Sunday, when the home crowd had to hold its breath every time he had the ball in his hands. When that happens, the Wolverines are a different team.
A more dangerous team.
The Hoosiers felt that firsthand today to the tune of 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc for Houstan. He was a killer. He played like the five-star prospect he came in as, like Michigan’s best recruit of the millennia.
Houstan is one of the reasons that the Wolverines came in with sky-high expectations and why they cratered. When he struggled, so too did Michigan. But, now that he’s playing like this, momentum is starting to gather.
“I just admire being around a guy like Caleb,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “I see so much growth in him, game after game.”
While Houstan wasn’t quite ready for the burden that was laid upon him at first — a starting role on an expected national championship contender, coming in fresh with tremendous expectations of filling a gaping perimeter void — he has grown into it. Lately, the 19-year-old sharpshooter is no longer passing up driving lanes or bricking wide-open threes, and while there is still the occasional missed shot, those are now diluted by confident swishes.
There’s no way of knowing if this run will sustain itself. But, if it does, there is also no telling what the Wolverines’ ceiling will look like. A team that has a dominant paint presence paired with outside shooters that will drain shots? Tough to match up with.
That’s what Houstan was always supposed to be for Michigan. A wing that provides a consistent outside threat, someone who the opposing team always has to chase around because if they give him an open look, forget about it.
So, when the game was already well past decided and Houstan caught another pass on the wing, what happened next should come as no surprise.
His fifth and final three, a cherry on top of his best game of the season in the Wolverines’ best win of the season. The statement made was a loud one, and while that was lost on most of the fans who had either left or were making their way toward the exits, it wasn’t lost on Howard:
“He’s always been rock solid, every time, all the time,” Howard said. “To come in and practice, getting his work in, watching film, learning the game and staying dialed in mentally.