Michigan found something in the second half of its 71-55 win over Purdue Saturday at Crisler Arena.
Or better yet, someone.
The sophomore guard sparked the Wolverines with eight points and three assists during a 19-7 run midway through the second half. Smith’s outburst turned an uneasy 34-28 Michigan lead into an 18-point landslide victory. He broke Purdue’s spirits, and the Boilermakers couldn’t believe the source of the contributions.
“He played really well tonight, and that’s to his credit,” Purdue guard Chris Kramer said. “When we played him at Mackey, he didn’t play that well. . We have to give that respect now next time we play him.”
Smith started off distributing the ball for three early assists. He found senior captain Lester Abram once and senior guard Dion Harris twice, all for 3-pointers.
With Michigan leading by 10, Smith decided to display his scoring abilities.
The sophomore started off by going coast-to-coast for an easy lay-up.
On the next possession, Smith found the ball in his hands with the shot clock winding down. Without panicking, the Romulus native calmly worked himself into the paint and showed off his post moves with a baby hook for two more.
Smith capped his run with back-to-back jumpers. One came off a feed from Harris, the other a transition pull-up after a block by senior Brent Petway. Two late free throws gave him a final stat line of 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
After the game, Smith couldn’t put his finger on the reason for the production.
“I’m just trying to go out there, have fun and play my game,” said Smith, who entered the game averaging just four points, three assists and two rebounds per contest. “I couldn’t really tell you (the reason behind the outburst). I don’t want to judge just one game.”
Smith was reserved in the locker room after the game. He spent most of the time crediting his teammates and his own hard work in practice for his breakout game.
But other players weren’t so quick to dismiss Smith’s efforts and how much he means to the Wolverines.
“It changes our whole team (when Smith brings that effort),” senior Courtney Sims said. “When he plays like that we can beat anybody in the country.”
Added Petway: “Just being able to hit his shots, take his shots when he gets them and finding other people when he gets into the lane . We’re gonna need that from him the whole season.”
The Wolverines need Smith to continue to be effective when he’s on the floor, because it makes them extremely difficult to defend.
As a freshman last year, Smith had his share of growing pains. With superstar Daniel Horton shouldering most of the ballhandling duties at the time, Michigan could afford to let Smith learn from his mistakes during games.
This season Smith is the second option at point guard. His minutes are up, and his ability to run the offense and give Harris a chance to catch his breath are vital to Michigan’s success.
On Saturday, Smith had arguably the best game of his young career. He grew more confident with each possession, which wasn’t lost on Michigan coach Tommy Amaker, who raved about his sophomore point guard’s development after the win.
“It was obvious that he had an energy and a bounce about him (Saturday) that was very positive,” Amaker said. “It looked like he really grew up (Saturday).”