Freshman guard talks about his 19-point performance in Saturday's 69-55 win in the Big Ten opener. James Hawkins
Ann Arbor — It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
When redshirt sophomore wing Charles Matthews picked up a foul 14 seconds into Saturday’s 69-55 win over Indiana, freshman guard Jordan Poole was pressed into action much sooner than expected.
And Poole ran with the opportunity, scoring a career-high 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including an impressive 5-for-10 from 3-point range, in his Big Ten debut to lead the Wolverines (7-2, 1-0).
Prior to Saturday, Poole had made nine shots in 21 attempts and scored 27 points in six games off the bench. He never left the sideline in two contests and his previous high was 11 points against UC-Riverside on Nov. 26.
“Today I was getting a lot of open looks,” Poole said. “They (coaches) constantly stressed to shoot the open shots and not hesitate and try to make a play. If I’m open, shoot it. So, I'm like, 'You don’t got to tell me twice.'"
“I didn’t surprise myself because the confidence is there. Obviously, I know what I work on and everything that goes in practice and being able to take the right shots. I’m amazingly confident in my ability, so when I got out there that’s when I feel like I do what I normally do.”
Poole got off to a shaky start with a bad miss on a 3-pointer from the corner that was well long. But that didn’t affect him much as he came back and buried his next two long-range shots to help Michigan build an early 16-2 lead.
“Kobe (Bryant) said he’ll go 0-for-30 before he goes o-fer, so it kind of sticks to me,” Poole said. “I know the shooter that I am the next one is going to go in.”
Poole also showed he’s more than a 3-point threat. He caught the Indiana defense sleeping on a cut to the rim for an open layup in the first half and then took his defender off the dribble for a driving score in the second half.
More importantly, he came through when Michigan needed him to and helped keep Indiana at bay. Twice in the second half when the Hoosiers were close to cutting the deficit to single digits, Poole drilled a 3-pointer to push the lead back to 14.
Michigan coach talks about the continued growth of Eli Brooks, Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers following Saturday's win 69-55 win in the Big Ten opener. James Hawkins
According to Michigan coach John Beilein, Poole had one of the worst 3-point shooting percentages and had taken the most shots on the team throughout the summer, which made Saturday’s showing all the more encouraging.
“He just needed to be good before he tried to be great,” Beilein said. “Great players just take good shots, they make good plays, they’re solid on defense. Before this it was a lot of turnovers, a lot of bad shots. Now he’s taking care of the ball, he’s taking good shots.”
And while Poole might not have been high on Indiana’s scouting report and sneaked up on the Hoosiers, he has almost certainly put the rest of the Big Ten on notice.
“Every young guy in his career clearly goes through ups and downs but you have to show him great respect because of who he (Beilein) has coming in and obviously what they do and how they play,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “But when you get good looks and a couple of them go in then it just feels like the weight of the world is off your shoulders. I think you saw a young guy play with great confidence as he got going early and for him to hit five 3s in his first Big Ten game, that’s unbelievable.”
Odd man out
For the first time this season, grad transfer Jaaron Simmons didn’t play due to a coach's decision.
Freshman Eli Brooks started at point guard for the fifth straight game and Zavier Simpson came off the bench. Brooks finished with five points, six assists and two steals in 22 minutes, while Simpson was scoreless and had one assist in 18 minutes.
“We had two point guards and we really played well with those two,” Beilein said. “We felt we had a really good rhythm out there with those two.”
While Beilein is trying to get the point guard spot down to a two-man rotation, he said Saturday’s usage is not a sign of things to come. He said with senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman locking down Indiana senior guard Robert Johnson (six points, three turnovers), he didn’t want to sacrifice Abdur-Rahkman’s defense to get Simmons into the game.
“This is going to go all year long,” Beilein said of the point guard battle. “We could go into the next game and Jaaron may play big minutes again. We do feel it’s hard to play three in one game.
“We decided to cut (Simmons) back, let those two play. The quarterback controversy isn’t over amongst you (media). With us, it’s who is playing well in practice, who plays well in the game and in the middle of the game who do I feel has the stuff together for that game.”
Beilein said he’d like to get Poole and Matthews on the court at the same time. That could mean having Poole at the two and Matthews at the three, or Poole at the three and Matthews at the four if Michigan decides to play small.
At one point against Indiana, Michigan went small with four guards and one big man on the floor.
“We’re not going to get it done by the Ohio State game (on Monday),” Beilein said. “It’s going to take a little time and who is the quickest learner there. We just keep (Poole at the three) and let Charles float around or play with Charles if we want to play small like we did today.”
… Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the first game played at Crisler Center.