On Tuesday night, the 3-pointers came early and often for the Michigan men’s basketball team.
By the 14:16 minute-mark of the first half, the Wolverines had hit five of them — three from graduate guard Mike Smith and two from senior wing Isaiah Livers — while their opponent, Maryland, had yet to score five points. Within the blink of an eye, Michigan had changed the entire complexion of the game with its barrage from deep.
Coming off their worst 3-point shooting performance of the season — going 6-of-22 against Minnesota — the Wolverines bounced back with a 12-for-24 performance against the Terrapins.
What changed: Michigan’s ball movement.
The backcourt duo of Smith and senior guard Eli Brooks masterfully orchestrated the offense, moving the ball inside out and finding open teammates on the perimeter with extra passes. Smith and Brooks accounted for 11 of the team’s 20 assists.
“Just put the ball in the pocket,” Smith said. “Give him the laces. I’ve always tried to watch basketball and the one person I watched when I was younger was (Rajon) Rondo, with Ray Allen. Rondo always gave Ray Allen the ball with the seams in his hands so he doesn’t have to sit there and get his spot on the laces.
“Give him the ball right there and give him the ball with the laces and a hard chest pass and it’s going to be knocked down. Isaiah, (senior guard Chaundee Brown), Eli … if I do that to everybody, it’s a knockdown for sure or a very good look that may hit back rim and may be a long rebound for us to get another one.”
The offensive wherewithal of freshman center Hunter Dickinson was also pivotal in helping the Wolverines space the floor effectively. Dickinson has faced double-teams more and more throughout his impressive freshman season, and has shown a knack for finding open teammates on the perimeter. In the last game, though, as soon as Dickinson caught the ball in the post, the Golden Gophers blanketed him with a unique combination of size and athleticism. Dickinson struggled, turning the ball over five times.
Maryland’s undersized bigs weren’t nearly as effective. It may not have shown up on the statsheet in terms of assists, but Dickinson helped initiate the offense from the post, swinging the ball out of the double team and across the court. The Terrapins, scrambling to keep up with the ball movement, inevitably failed to adequately contest Michigan’s shooters.
“Hunter’s been very consistent,” Livers said. “Guys are gonna look at the box score and be like, ‘Hunter wasn’t consistent or playing well.’ No, Hunter was drawing the attention for me to even have four threes. … He was making the simple pass out, just let us make the decision and we’ll drive and kick and get an open three every time. Cause when you put two to the ball like that, somebody’s open.”
The Wolverines’ unselfishness was on full display Tuesday night. By nature of Michigan’s rotations, there are almost always at least three players capable of making a 3-pointer out on the floor. With that said, it takes a certain mindset for a competent shooter to trade a decent shot for a great shot — not every player is willing to make that pass.
This iteration of the Wolverines has shown that willingness.
“I know they’re going to be there because that’s how (coach Juwan Howard) teaches it,” Livers said. “So when someone drives, you gotta be in that spot for them.
“That’s just the habits that we have (had) from day one. That’s really how it goes. It’s the culture here, it’s the Michigan culture. You’ve got to buy into it to have the chemistry.”
When it comes to 3-point shooting, the Wolverines don’t lack confidence. Their offensive approach is predicated on making the extra pass and trusting their teammates.
Against the Terrapins, Michigan did just that.
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