Ignas Brazdeikis sat on the bench, watching Michigan’s sluggish offense fall in a hole to North Carolina.
After getting whistled for a foul just three minutes into the game, the freshman forward came out. Without their leading scorer on the season, the Wolverines struggled to find a rhythm and the game seemed like it could quickly get out of hand.
“I told him, ‘You can’t make fouls like that early in the game, you know how much it means to this team,’ ” said redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews. “ ‘You’re a freshman, but your contribution to the team is huge and we need you on the floor.’ ”
Brazdeikis learned from his freshman mistake and resolved to make up for it. Five minutes later — with Michigan down by eight to the Tar Heels on an 8-0 run — he checked back in.
“I made that foul and it was kind of a mistake,” Brazdeikis said. “So I was like, ‘As soon as I get back in, I need to make some plays, be aggressive, get back in the groove of the game.’
“ … I’ll take my leg off if I have to … I’m gonna do whatever it takes to win the game.”
He made good on that promise.
After a layup cut North Carolina’s lead to six, Brazdeikis collected a turnover off a bad pass and drove down the court for a layup and-one.
Moments later, Brazdeikis once again got the ball following an empty possession from the Tar Heels and a Wolverine defensive rebound, and he nailed a triple to cut the deficit to two.
And on the next possession, he grabbed a defensive rebound that set up another 3-pointer by sophomore guard Eli Brooks.
One minute and 20 seconds after re-entering the game, Brazdeikis had almost single-handedly turned a six-point deficit into a one-point lead. The ensuing 17-2 run — including another layup from Brazdeikis — extended Michigan’s lead to five.
“We just started to hit shots, started to make plays,” Brazdeikis said. “I felt like early on we were kinda missing shots that we usually make, missing free throws, so I felt like when I got back in, I made a couple plays and then everything just started rolling from there.”
Brazdeikis’ run sparked the offense, which scored 45 points in the second half en route to an 84-67 win. Appropriately, Brazdeikis scored the Wolverines’ first points of the second half on an open layup under the basket. By then, Crisler Center was rocking and Michigan was rolling.
“I don’t think he’s in awe,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “He’s never played in an environment like that and he’s not in awe of any of that. He just comes in and performs through it.”
Brazdeikis finished with 24 points on the night — a season (and career) high — proving that for him, no stage was truly too big.
But it was those six points halfway through the first half that served as a wake-up call, just when the Wolverines needed it most.