Darius Morris still has a lot to learn on the Michigan basketball team. After struggling against the Wolverines’ opponents at the Old Spice Classic and Boston College — he scored a combined 12 points in all four games — he started to show signs of growth Saturday.
“(Michigan coach John Beilein) has been telling me that there’s going to be some bumps in the road early,” the freshman point guard said. “I’m still trying to find my niche on this team and on offense. But on the defensive part, I just bring it every day. I just feel like I am getting more and more comfortable after each game.”
The Los Angeles native tallied eight points and three assists against Arkansas-Pine Bluff Saturday, with most of his contributions coming during Michigan’s second-half resurgence, where they outscored the Golden Lions by 14 points.
Morris’s success came against a lesser opponent, and Beilein believes Morris’s defensive performance was more impressive than his points.
“He’s a better defender, he’s just in that delay where we’re a step off reading what’s going on,” Beilein said. “That’s just assimilating to college basketball. So the only way he’s going to get it more is by playing more.”
Morris’s speed on defense was one of the reasons for the Wolverines’ success in shutting down the Golden Lions. Michigan forced 22 turnovers, and the freshman did a good job with ball control, committing just two turnovers himself.
On Saturday, Beilein rewarded Morris for his efforts. He saw the court for 34 minutes, the second-most behind junior forward Manny Harris. Both Beilein and Morris realize that for the Michigan offense to be functional, it needs Morris to direct traffic in the backcourt.
“I’ve learned certain simple things like when to attack, what time on the shot clock are we going, if we’re going two-for-one,” Morris said. “The main part is confidence. I think I’m getting my confidence up.”
Struggling sharpshooters: It was the first thing Beilein addressed in Saturday’s postgame press conference.
And it has been one of his team’s glaring, recurring issues.
The issue is the 3-point struggles of sophomore guards Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, who seem to have lost their touch on the deep ball.
Novak finished the game 0-for-4 from behind the arc, and Douglass didn’t fare much better, going just 1-for-7. In fact, Douglass had numerous second-half opportunities from deep that simply clanked off the front of the rim.
“(Novak) didn’t shoot the ball well today. He was 3-for-9 the other day, 0-for-4 today,” Beilein said. “We’ve just got to keep working. Maybe they’re tired, I do not know.”
There was one play in particular that showed a lack of confidence. Late in the game, with Michigan trying to kill the clock, Novak passed on a wide open shot. At the next timeout, Beilein told his guard to take the shot.
“We had said any fast break, we weren’t going to take any threes,” Beilein said. “There was 17 seconds left on the clock. He’s being a good soldier there, he probably needed to shoot that one when he was wide open. He was a little bit too careful there.”
It’s a girl: Even as senior forward Anthony Wright played eight minutes against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, he probably had other things on his mind.
The night before, Wright’s girlfriend Stefanie Mitchell gave birth to a 7-pound, 4-ounce baby girl named Jordyn Cherelle Wright.
“I was there the entire time,” Wright said. “She was in there for like 31 hours of labor. She ended up having a C-section, so in total in the past 48, 50-something hours, I probably had about six hours of sleep. Other than that, it was a great experience.”
While Wright didn’t score in the contest and missed two layups, he did arrive early to get his blood going before the game after an exhausting two days.
“Today, I didn’t really feel (tired), except those two possessions on the missed layups,” Wright said. “But I mean, on defense I was there. Defensively, offensively, except for those two missed layups I want back.”