NEW YORK — Taking its first test in Madison Square Garden, the Michigan men’s basketball team soundly passed. In just about every category, the Wolverines out-played St. John’s in an 89-73 win.
But in one, Michigan paled in comparison: rebounding.
The 47 to 39 rebound disparity on the stat sheet is deficient, but the offensive boards stand out even further above it. In comparison to a mere 14 for the Wolverines, St. John’s collected 27 rebounds on the offensive end.
In a contest carried by dominant guard play, the frontcourt can easily be overlooked, and with it, the importance of dominance down low. Fighting for boards and retaining possessions is something that cannot be done without aggression and endurance provided by the frontcourt. And for Michigan, the onus primarily falls upon sophomore forward Tarris Reed Jr.
While at points Reed didn’t fulfill that dominance on Monday, his improvements later and his teammates’ trust in his growth stood out.
“We make sure to congratulate him in the locker room, because without him, this doesn’t run,” sophomore guard Dug McDaniel said. “We need all five. We don’t need one or two, we need all five.”
But that’s easier said than done.
The discrepancy between the two teams in retaining possessions via the glass didn’t solely fall on Reed, but his disposition set the tone for the team. And with that came a lot of pressure.
That pressure seemed to get to them early on, and Reed specifically. Struggling at the free throw line and committing a traveling violation just three minutes into play exemplified that flustered feeling.
While on paper these are merely a few blunders early in the game, their significance goes beyond the stat sheet. Because Reed spent considerable time honing in on those skills as he prepared for his sophomore campaign.
“(Now) Tarris plays up,” associate head coach Phil Martelli said. “Last year, as a freshman, he played at the defense. (But) you have to go up at his size. He has worked incredibly, incredibly hard with Juwan (Howard) in the summer, Juwan runs the big man clinic, and now Jay Smith (has taken over).”
Rather than instinctively playing toward the defense, Reed has learned to go straight up when he gets the ball. In reverting back to bad habits early on Monday, he couldn’t showcase his growth.
In the first half, there were times when the 6-foot-10 forward seemed powerless, unable to stop the Red Storm from storming the paint. At the other end, when storming the paint himself and drawing contact, he couldn’t capitalize — shooting 1-for-5 from the line.
But toward the end of the first period, the Wolverines became more cohesive, and with them, so did Reed. Through that, Reed gained the power and aggression he worked toward in the offseason.
While that power and aggression didn’t translate to points on the stat sheet — Reed tallied just five points in the contest — it exemplified his growth. And growth in those facets is exactly what Reed needs to establish himself at the ‘5’ as the leader of Michigan’s frontcourt.
“Shoutout to Tarris,” McDaniel said. “Tonight maybe wasn’t his scoring night, but he impacted the games in ways that on paper it won’t show, but we definitely congratulate him for.”
In the second half, an aggressive Reed came to fruition, manning the paint on the defensive end. As he rose concurrently with a released shot, blocking it with authority that he lacked earlier in the contest, the aggression manifested. Staring down the St. John’s player, there was an elevated sense of confidence. Reed had just five points in the contest, but he also collected a team-high 11 rebounds.
Even in the microcosm of Michigan’s first road test, he flashed what he’s capable of when exerting that aggression.
There were certainly parts of the test that Reed didn’t score perfectly on, but his endurance and how he performed down the stretch showed that he is capable of growth as well. The offseason of drilling in skills is over, but the season to come offers opportunities to get better. That much showed during his in-game growth against the Red Storm, and it could show in what he works on before the next game.
“The thing that he is going to walk away with is not the 11 rebounds,” Martelli said. “He’s going to walk away knowing he was 1-for-5 from the foul line. … Wednesday, he’ll be in there working on it.”
In most areas, the Wolverines excelled in Monday’s win, but for Reed, what stands out the most are the things he needs to hone in on. Yet even within a single game, Reed demonstrated the growth and perseverance he’s capable of.
Now, culminating what he built in the offseason with his game-by-game growth, he continues working toward a stronger all-around game. Similar to what he showed against St. John’s, Tarris Reed Jr. can begin to put all of the pieces of his game together.