DETROIT — According to his coach, the key to Zavier Simpson’s game is counterintuitive.
“I think by trying to do less,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, “he’s doing more.”
On Saturday, the sophomore point guard did exactly that, tallying 12 points on five-for-seven shooting in the Wolverines’ 90-58 demolition of Detroit Mercy at Little Caesars Arena.
And his presence was obvious just moments after hitting the floor.
With roughly 14 minutes left in the first half, Simpson spotted up from the wing, collected a pass and drilled a 3. On the next possession, Simpson threaded a pass to sophomore center Jon Teske for a dunk, and followed with an assertive dribble-drive for his own easy score.
“I think he’s just getting more and more comfortable,” said fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson. “He brings so much defensively for us, but I think you guys have really seen his game grow on the offensive end more and more. We see it a lot in practice, but it’s great that he’s starting to experience a lot success in games.”
Midway through the first half, Simpson flashed his full range of skills again.
After making the extra pass to Robinson for an open 3, Simpson connected on his second triple of the afternoon.
Then, he stripped his matchup of the ball, creating a scrum and forcing a Detroit turnover. And one second later, Simpson collected his sixth of seven total assists, as he found a wide-open Robinson on the perimeter yet again.
Those types of passes have caught Beilein’s eye — even more so than Simpson’s sudden scoring ability.
“He and Eli and Jaaron were always taking extra dribbles,” Beilein said. “They still need to score to make their team win, but they’ve got to hit the open man quicker.
“(They’re) now really doing a good job of not taking that extra dribble like they were earlier in the year and seeing the open man.”
There weren’t too many extra dribbles Saturday. Simpson frequently found the open man, tallying the most assists he has had since the season opener along with zero turnovers.
“That hasn’t happened too much, and he’s played some minutes before,” Beilein said. “He’s really taking care of the ball.”
After a slow offensive start to the season, Simpson has scored in double-digits in three of the Wolverines past four contents — a stretch of rare offensive production from his position group.
Nearly midway through the year, no Michigan point guard averages more than five points per game.
Thanks to his defensive ability and experience, Simpson was Beilein’s pick to start at the start of the season. But the Wolverines lacked offensive direction, and freshman Eli Brooks took over during November’s Maui Invitational to make nine consecutive starts.
But Simpson began to show significant strides starting Dec. 4 at Ohio State, serving as Michigan’s lone source of scoring down the stretch of a brutal blown loss. He was clutch last week when he scored 15 points — including a late, game-tying field goal — in an overtime victory for the Wolverines against UCLA. He even led the team heading into Saturday’s game in three-point shooting percentage with a 41.2 percent average.
And on Saturday, Simpson thrived again under the less-is-more mantra.
“You know, he deserves it,” Beilein said. “He’s another one of those guys you worry about because he spends so much time getting extra shots up. So (I’m) really proud of him.”