Charles Matthews sparkles in debut as Michigan wins

James X Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — The 19-month wait was finally over for Charles Matthews.

After sitting out all last season, the junior guard wasted little time reintroducing himself to the college basketball world and making a statement in his first game as a Wolverine.

Matthews poured in 23 points and did most of his damage in the first half to power Michigan to an 82-50 victory over Division II Grand Valley State Friday night in its lone exhibition at Crisler Center.

“It's been a long time since I've played in live competition, played high minutes so I was just happy to be out there,” said Matthews, who shot 9-for-14 from the field and added four rebounds and two assists in 29 minutes.

“I was so nervous out there, especially at tip-off. I'm still waiting to get comfortable and get in that natural game flow so I can be playing more fluid, but it's going to come.”

Matthews, who transferred from Kentucky after his freshman season, apparently didn’t need to shake off any built-up rust. He got off to a hot start and knocked down his first three shots: a 3-pointer from the wing to open the scoring, a turnaround jumper from the elbow and another mid-range shot to help stake Michigan to a 10-4 lead — one that would only continue to swell — within the first five minutes.

That only seemed to whet Matthews’ appetite as he switched it up and began showcasing his all-around game. Following his first miss on a contested turnaround jumper, he got out on a fast break and threw down a two-handed jam off an assist from grad transfer Jaaron Simmons.

Then midway through the first half, Matthews relentlessly attacked the rim for back-to-back and-1 layups to extend Michigan’s lead to 31-13 at the 8:56 mark. The first came on a cut off an inbounds play and the second in transition off a steal from starting sophomore point guard Zavier Simpson (six points, four rebounds, three assists) but Matthews could only complete the three-point play once.

Matthews closed out his impressive first half with a coast-to-coast layup to push Michigan’s lead to 41-17 at the 5:16 mark. He shot 7-for-9 from the floor, including 1-for-2 from 3-point range, and tallied 17 points as the Wolverines cruised into halftime with a 45-21 cushion.

“That's what I've seen from him (Matthews) since Day 1 that I got here,” said Simmons, who came off the bench behind Simpson and finished with five points and three assists in 15 minutes. “He's aggressive, scorer, defender, athletic. He can do a lot of things.”

Early in the second half, Matthews continued to wow the crowd with an emphatic block in the lane. However, there was no second-half scoring show as he added a layup, another mid-range jumper and two free throws to cap his night.

Still, Matthews’ debut was a welcome sight for a Michigan team that lost three starters and over 50 percent of its scoring from last season.

“You know what I love really? I love when he hit his first 3,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of Matthews, who he added could be a 32-35 minute player if he defends. “We see it in practice, we watch it. But the fact that he wasn't afraid to take it, and he went and made it.

"I don't know why it is, to me, and not that we haven't had good players begin their season with missed shots, good players have done that. It seemed to me like the (Tim) Hardaways and the (Nik) Staukskas come out and just from the very time they touch it they're comfortable. He looked really comfortable."

With the outcome never in serious jeopardy, Beilein played all of his scholarship players and emptied the end of the bench in the final two minutes.

Senior forward Duncan Robinson added 11 points and knocked down three 3-pointers, and junior center Moritz Wagner had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Wolverines, who will host North Florida in the regular-season opener on Nov. 11.

Roster update

Michigan announced freshman C.J. Baird was elevated from student manager to walk-on. Baird (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) played four years of varsity at Detroit Catholic Central and averaged 15.7 points, eight rebounds and four assists as a senior.

He will wear No. 24 and will take over the roster spot left vacant by former walk-on guard Fred Wright-Jones, who left the team to focus on his studies.