WEST LAFAYETTE — Over the course of their latest five-game winning streak, the Wolverines have showcased their depth.
The usual suspects of Zavier Simpson, Isaiah Livers and Eli Brooks have all had their moments — Simpson’s four 3-pointers against Michigan State, Livers’ 17-point outing against Northwestern and Brooks’ three double-digit scoring efforts.
When they haven’t though, Michigan’s been able to fall back on the rest of its roster. Whether it was sophomores David DeJulius and Colin Castleton chipping in for a absent Livers last Wednesday against Rutgers, sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr.’s scoring 14 points in the team’s win against Indiana or senior center Austin Davis registering valuable minutes in relief of starter Jon Teske, the Wolverines’ most recent wins have been a collective effort.
Saturday afternoon was no different. Off the back of team-high 22 points from freshman forward Franz Wagner, Michigan pushed its current win streak to five — and seven of the last eight — with a comfortable, 71-63 win over Purdue.
“The shot was falling finally,” Wagner said. “I’m working hard in practice. I’m taking shots I’m comfortable taking and I’m taking them with confidence. That’s what the staff wants me to do. I think it’s important to keep doing that no matter of the percentage.”
Livers added: “I’m super proud of him. To come in as a freshman and play 30-plus (minutes) — not a lot of experienced guys played that much last year. You don’t even think he’s an underclassman when he plays out there because he plays with so much emotion.”
Wagner’s 9-for-13, five-rebound, two-steal performance came with Simpson going scoreless from the field, Brooks registering just four points in 21 minutes and relatively quiet afternoons from Johns Jr. and Davis. Instead, it was Wagner and Livers who shouldered the scoring burden, with the junior returning to action with 19 points.
On any given night is a phrase thrown around too frequently, but it’s certainly applied to the Wolverines recently — any player, on any given night can be the difference offensively.
“We have five guys averaging double figures,” Michigan associate head coach Phil Martelli said. “It’s tremendous balance.”
According to Martelli, that balanced offensive production took root over the summer as Michigan coach Juwan Howard implemented his scheme. After a difficult January, the Wolverines are finally clicking with the same effectiveness they showed to start the season.
“The first statement to them in July was that under this system they were going to learn to share the game,” Martelli said. “That’s what we do. We share the game. When we got in trouble, going back to the slump, the ball was being dribbled too much and there wasn’t enough trust. This team now has complete trust.
“These guys in practice are held accountable. I think that carries over. We can walk out of here tonight and say ‘Hey, that wasn’t Austin.’ Think about that, we have expectations for Austin Davis that yeah, he met it physically but not with buckets and things like that.”
Winning by committee is perfectly fine in Howard’s estimation. While he would prefer to see his players produce as consistently as possible, if Simpson leads the way one night and Wagner does another, Howard is indifferent. The win column is the only statistic that matters.
“Yes, our guys have the mindset that numbers don’t matter,” Howard said. “The only number that matters is winning. If we score one point more than our opponent, personal stats and all that stuff — that’s for social media likes and stuff like that.”
On Saturday, just like the past two weeks, Michigan’s depth was put on full display and it once again yielded that sought-after win.