Sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. was having trouble finding his stroke early. His first two shots — both 3-pointers — rimmed out. After making a 2-point bucket, he missed another long bomb.
After the third miss, a forced shot that Hardaway took at the beginning of the shot clock without letting the offense set up, Michigan coach John Beilein had seen enough. He pulled his star guard just five minutes into the game.
“He was pretty excited about playing in this game,” Beilein said, explaining the need to keep Hardaway in check.
So instead of letting Hardaway immediately take a seat to settle down, Beilein had some coaching for his youngster.
“He said, ‘Those shots are good shots, but we can get them later on in the shot clock,’ and he was right,” Hardaway said. “I was forcing them and I felt like I was open when I really wasn’t, so just hearing that and just trying to go out there and make plays and try to get in the lane and make things happen really helped me out today.”
So Hardaway did just that. Though his 1-for-7 shooting from 3-point land would suggest a poor performance from the sophomore, he connected on 10-of-11 2-point field goals, giving him a season-high 26 points.
His performance helped Michigan beat Penn State in the conference opener for each team, 71-53.
“That was my point in the locker room,” Beilein said. “(I told him,) ‘Tim, I loved your game. You know why? You went 1-for-7 from three and you still had 26 points. You took the ball to the basket and you posted up and did some things that we’ve been working on.’
“He’s not a one-dimensional player. He wouldn’t have had that (point total) last year, I don’t think he would’ve had it. He needed threes to score, and he gets some of those, but I like the evolution that we’re seeing from him.”
TREY DÉSOLÉ, PENN STATE: Two years ago, everyone assumed freshman point guard Trey Burke would play in this matchup between the Wolverines and Nittany Lions. But just about everything else about Burke’s game Thursday night would’ve come as a shocker.
Burke committed to play basketball at Penn State in 2009 as an underrated guard who was receiving little recruiting attention. He didn’t commit to Michigan until last year, and as a four-star prospect, few analysts projected him to have the impactful freshman campaign that he’s having this year.
Despite shooting just 30 percent from the field on Thursday, Burke had another strong game, scoring 13 points, dishing out seven assists and grabbing five rebounds.
But while points, rebounds and assists are the flashy stats that attract national attention, it has been the lack of turnovers that gets Burke the most praise from teammates and coaches.
The Nittany Lions entered the game averaging more than seven steals and 15 turnovers against, but Burke didn’t surrender a single turnover to his former would-be team.
“It’s impressive (but) I’m not really surprised, though,” said senior guard Zack Novak. “The kid’s been doing this all year and he’s just tough. That’s the only way to describe him. He’s just not fazed by anything. It looks like he’s still playing in high school.”
MR. DOUBLE-DOUBLE: For the third consecutive game, sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz walked off the court with double-digit point and rebound totals.
Unlike the two previous games, when Smotrycz averaged nearly 19 points and shot 69 percent from 3-point range, the forward struggled on the offensive end — at least by his recent standards.
The Reading, Mass. native shot 3-for-7 against Penn State for 10 points, but unlike last year, he still left his footprint on the game with his 10 rebounds, three of which came on the offensive end.
Beilein has praised Smotrycz’s improved rebounding ability since last year, when the coach was hesitant to leave Smotrycz on the floor as the lone post player because of his rebounding deficiencies.
“He’s got a long way to go, but I love coaching Evan Smotrycz,” Beilein said. “He may not think it sometimes, but he’s got some very — he’s a high-risk, high-reward (guy) at times, and he’s learning how to take some of that risk out.”