With the clock winding down and the halftime buzzer just moments away, Derrick Walton Jr. heaved up a 3-pointer. There was no real rhyme or reason to it, as the Wolverines already held a comfortable 49-22 lead over Maryland Eastern Shore, but he gave it a try anyway.
And why not? The senior guard had missed just two shots all afternoon.
Though the attempt didn’t count as time had just expired, Walton had already done his part. Scoring 16 points in the first stanza on 5-for-6 shooting from the floor and 4-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc, Walton set the tone for the Michigan men’s basketball team Saturday in a 98-49 win.
“Just trying to get back to myself,” Walton said. “I’ve kind of been in a funk shooting the ball. And I just made an initiative before the game to make some shots. … because I know down the road this team needs it.”
Orchestrating the offense from the point, Walton assumed the role of a true playmaker. He poked holes through the defense with his inside penetration and opened up space for his teammates with his outside shots.
Walton pushed the pace in transition as well. He grabbed five rebounds in the first half and sent the ball up the floor in a hurry, cutting through the defense with his passes and his body to clear the lane and set up clear chances for his teammates. Michigan notched 10 fast-break points in each half as a result.
“(Michigan coach John Beilein) is on us every day about not running after we get a clean rebound, and he’s been on me personally about coming back to the (ball) and catching people on the outlet pass,” Walton said. “So I think we made the proper adjustments, and we were able to get some easy baskets.”
Against a Hawks team with a zone defense similar to that of their previous foe Central Arkansas, the Wolverines followed Walton’s lead and took the liberty of firing up shots at will. In the first half alone, Michigan shot 17-for-27 from the floor and 8-for-15 from deep, a 63 and 53.3 percentage, respectively.
The Wolverines topped themselves in the second, shooting at a 68 percent clip from the floor and a 66.7 percent clip from three, respectively. Walton poured in five more points in the stanza, including his fifth triple of the contest, to finish with 21 overall.
“We just tried to focus on getting in the best position to shoot the high percentage shot,” Walton said. “That’s step-in threes, layups and lobbed dunks, so that’s pretty much what it boils down to.”
With Walton as their guide, the Wolverines spread the ball across the floor and repeatedly made the extra pass to find the open man. Out of 14 team assists on Michigan’s 17 first-half field goals, Walton tied for the most with four. The Wolverines kept the flow going in the second half, with another 14 dishes on 17 more scores from the floor for a season-high total of 28.
Though the Central Arkansas game finished in a similar blowout style, Walton had a quiet night with just nine points and six assists. Turning the tables against Maryland Eastern Shore, Walton rediscovered his shooting stroke, and he may have Beilein to thank for it.
“I did not like the way he just carried himself in the game against Central Arkansas,” Beilein said. “He was turning down shots (and) the ball was sticking like crazy. We talked hard about that. … what a talented player he is.
“…How many guys have scored 1,000 points and missed 16 games? ‘You’re a really good player, and this team needs you to look at the basket’, that was the message.”
By the look of his performance Saturday, Walton heard Beilein loud and clear, and the timing couldn’t be better for Michigan with Big Ten play only one non-conference game away.