Nik Stauskas moves around Aaron Craft on Tuesday night. (Jay LaPrete / Associated Press)
Ann Arbor — On Tuesday against Ohio State, Nik Stauskas made a move, dipped and nailed a step-back 3-pointer against Aaron Craft, regarded as one of the top on-the-ball defenders in the country.
Stauskas, U-M’s leading scorer (16.9 points) went back on defense and was greeted by coach John Beilein with a high-five. In an odd juxtaposition, the usually reserved Beilein was pumping up the always-confident Stauskas.
It was a shot that Stauskas said kick-started him in a difficult matchup, which the Wolverines won, 70-60, for the first win at Ohio State since 2003.
But more than anything, it helped get Stauskas, who had 15 points, out of a scoring funk, in which he totaled just 15 points in the previous three games. To do it against Craft was something Beilein hoped would provide more of a boost for Stauskas and his confidence.
“We probably make too much of Craft,” Beilein said Friday. “We build him up during the year because he sets a tone defensively like I’ve never seen. As a result, hitting that first shot against him was really big for (Stauskas). He can do that; he’s played against really good defenders this year and he’s been able to get his own shot and make it.
“He can’t doubt himself. I would say Nik’s got a lot of swag and he can’t lose that, no matter what. If you score a few baskets with Aaron Craft in your face, that certainly adds to your swag.”
With Craft preoccupied guarding Stauskas, Michigan’s offense centered more around Derrick Walton, who finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
“It was a compliment to him that they put Aaron on him as much as they did,” Beilein said Friday. “It allowed us to do some things that allowed Derrick to get to the basket and allowed Caris (LeVert) to play and our big men to clean up rebounds, as well.”
While Stauskas’ scoring has dipped in the past few games, Beilein and the coaching staff have tried to get him to focus more on the mental part of the game, which is a transition he’s had to make in moving from role player last season as a freshman to leading scorer this year.
“He can do this — you just have to keep prompting him to be aggressive offensively,” Beilein said. “He needs to be aggressive; he is a heck of a shooter and he’s got to have this mentality: ‘It can’t be a perfect night. I’m not going to make every shot but I’m not going to make any if I don’t take them.’”
Stauskas seemingly was removed from the offense in previous games, finishing with 10 points in a loss to Iowa and six in the loss at Indiana. But when Stauskas was isolated on one side of the floor with Craft guarding him, it provided a decoy because the Buckeyes’ best defender also was away from the strong side of the offense, where others could attack the rim.
It’s a lopsided strategy that Beilein has conceded in the past against lesser defenders, but it worked against Ohio State.
“That’s by design that we do some different things as we try to move him around the floor or he moves around the floor,” Beilein said. “Craft is not going to leave him, and having shooters allows you to open the floor.”