In his team’s 74-62 win over Minnesota last night, Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein attributed his team’s 45.8-percent shooting to a special visitor.
Beilein’s priest, Father Chas Canoy of Ann Arbor’s St. Thomas Parish, attended his first game at Crisler Arena last night.
“That’s some pretty easy math right there,” Beilein said with a laugh. “First game he’s come to and the lids came off the basket, and it makes us a whole different team.”
Michigan made 13 shots from behind the arc, its highest total in Big Ten play this season.
Beilein has had an arsenal of 3-point specialists all year, but the biggest problem for the Wolverines has been if one player’s shooting well, the rest can’t follow suit.
But last night, the Wolverines’ guards couldn’t miss.
Freshmen Zack Novak and Stu Douglass and sophomore Kelvin Grady shot an unstoppable 11-of-19 from behind the arc. Playing unselfishly, the Wolverines recorded assists on all but six baskets. Novak scored a game-high 18 points, all 3-pointers.
“Hopefully we’ll be good enough one day to shoot poorly and still beat good teams with some other stuff — scoring inside or doing different things with the in-between game,” Beilein said. “But right now, if we can create our own shots through our offense and through our defense, I think we can play with a lot of people.”
Novak and Douglass, both Indiana natives, have impressed with their long-range abilities before, but never on the same night.
With Douglass’s 12 points, it was the first time the two scored in double digits in the same game.
Until redshirt freshman guard Laval-Lucas Perry became eligible on Dec. 20, Novak and Douglass never played on the floor at the same time. Since then, they’ve fine-tuned their on-court chemistry.
Late the first half, Novak was on a fastbreak and got tied up with Minnesota in the lane. But standing behind him, Douglass was open for the 3-pointer.
“I just hear one word — I hear, ‘Zack, Zack,’ ” Novak said. “I just turned around, and I knew right away, if he’s open, then he can hit it. It’s just things like that we know how to play off each other.”
Douglass made the shot, one of Michigan’s nine first-half 3-pointers.
“On the bench at the beginning of the game, I said, ‘This was going to be a shooting night,’ ” Grady said. “These guys aren’t going to miss.”
And last night, neither did Grady.
For the last five contests, Grady has watched most of Michigan’s games from the bench. After averaging over 23 minutes per game, he played just eight combined minutes in the five contests before last night’s game.
But when sophomore forward Manny Harris played just 22 minutes because of foul trouble, it was Grady who filled in.
He made the most of that time.
One of Michigan’s fastest players, Grady broke Minnesota’s full-court press, found open teammates and knocked down his own shots. In 14 minutes, he was perfect on his four attempts from the field, finishing with 12 points, three assists and one turnover.
“Oh, I love it,” Grady said of the Gophers’ full-court pressure. “That’s when I smile.”
Both teams entered the game battling for breathing room in the middle of the Big Ten standings, and both teams’ NCAA Tournament hopes depend greatly on the last two weeks of the regular season. Michigan (7-7 Big Ten, 17-10 overall) and Minnesota (7-7, 19-7) need to finish with at least a .500 conference record and win a couple games in the Big Ten Tournament to seriously think about an at-large NCAA bid.
But after back-to-back wins — their first since the beginning of January — the Wolverines have renewed confidence in the conference entering their final four-game regular-season stretch.