Michigan's Xavier Simpson, Ibi Watson get valuable minutes
Ann Arbor — It was the type of game Michigan desperately needed.
And it wasn’t because the Wolverines set single-game team records with 19 made 3-pointers on 45 attempts in Tuesday night’s 97-53 drubbing of Central Arkansas at Crisler Center.
More important than the record-breaking performance was the extended playing time freshmen Xavier Simpson and Ibi Watson received with Big Ten play fast approaching.
Simpson scored a season-high seven points on four free throws and a 3-pointer — his first made field goal since the opener against Howard — with three steals, two assists and two rebounds in 18 minutes, the most he’s played in eight games.
Watson had three points on 1-for-3 shooting and two rebounds in eight minutes. After entering the game 0-for-12 from 3-point range, Watson made the record-breaking 3-pointer from the wing by bouncing it off the rim and high off the glass.
“Our whole idea is Big Ten play, man you have to be ready,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “You can just see it. They’re growing. X had a couple of really good passes ... He’s lost some confidence because he’s had to take steps backwards.
“There’s some things he’s reworking and what he sees in the game. We’re seeing some carryover. Ibi the same thing. I don’t care how that 3 went in, he can shoot much better than he had but it went in. Now he’s got that one to his credit right now and hopefully he’ll grow from it because we do need that to come off the bench.”
Watson said dealing with the freshman learning curve and getting down all the offensive and defensive schemes has been hectic, but he’s continuing to make strides and get up to speed as quickly as possible.
“Since the last few weeks, it’s started to slow down and since the beginning of the season, it’s slowed down a lot but it’s still a process,” Watson said. “It’s still something that’s not easy to just get like that, so I’m working as hard as I can to grasp the whole concept.”
With two non-conference games remaining against Maryland Eastern Shore and Furman, Beilein said he hopes to get Simpson and Watson more sustained minutes and vital experience heading into Michigan’s Big Ten opener on Jan. 1 at Iowa.
“We have to have that eighth, ninth guy that can go in there and still give us good minutes,” Beilein said.
Following last week’s loss at UCLA, Beilein wanted junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman to get back to his game and be more aggressive going to the rim.
But against Central Arkansas and its matchup zone, Abdur-Rahkman couldn’t pass up all the open 3-pointers as he rediscovered his long-range shooting stroke. He attempted only one shot inside the arc and finished 5-for-9 from the field, including 4-for-8 from 3-point range, for 14 points.
It was just the second time this season Abdur-Rahkman, who entered the contest shooting a career-low 25.7 percent (9-for-35) beyond the arc, shot at least 50 percent from deep.
“It feels good,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “When you’re going through a slump like that, you just want to see your shot go in and it definitely helps my confidence the next couple games.”