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Michigan's Wagner not sharp in return, but Beilein encouraged

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Michigan coach John Beilein was just glad junior center Moritz Wagner could make a basket.

Wagner, Michigan's second-leading scorer, returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 12 in Saturday’s 76-51 nonconference finale win over Jacksonville after missing the past two games with a right foot and ankle injury.

As expected after a long layoff, Wagner was far from sharp and finished with seven points on 3-for-7 shooting, six rebounds, four turnovers, two blocks and an assist in 20 minutes.

Despite the lackluster showing, it was still a vital opportunity for Wagner to get back into a flow with his teammates as Michigan readies to jump back into Big Ten play Jan. 2 at Iowa.

“It was great,” Duncan Robinson said of Wagner’s return. “He brings so much emotionally to this team and it’s just great to have him back in practice on the floor these last couple days and obviously in the game.

“I think you saw early on he’s a little rusty but he’s just getting back. It’s tough to sit out like that and come back and never miss a beat, but we expect him to be back to his regular self soon.”

Wagner’s day was a mixed bag and got off to a rather rough start. He was whistled for a traveling call on Michigan’s second offensive possession and seemed hesitant in the post as his shot was swatted out of bounds on the next trip down.

By the time he checked out with 15:27 left in the first half, he missed two shots and had two turnovers, the second on a no-look pass that sailed out of bounds.

Wagner added another first-half turnover when he lost his footing — and the ball — on a spin move under the rim and turned it over again to start the second half when he was tied up by a Jacksonville defender while going up for a shot and a jump ball was called.

However, as the second half wore on, Wagner eventually began to find his footing and things started to take a turn for the better. After he broke through with his first points on a layup at the 19:22 mark, he added a nifty overhead pass to a cutting Charles Matthews for a baseline dunk, scored on another layup and knocked down a wide-open 3-pointer from atop the key before exiting the game with 5:03 remaining.

And for Beilein, that small sample of success was a welcomed sight following a frustrating past couple of days.

“I think he was 1-for-20 (shooting) in two days of practice,” Beilein said. “He just looks like how you would feel and, by the way, take a round-trip (flight) to Germany back and forth over that time.

“I didn’t expect him to play that well but when I saw that he finally made a layup and he hit a 3, I said, ‘Let’s get him out of here.’ He got to see the ball going in a little bit. It was important because if he plays that way at Iowa then we have no chance. It was good to get that out of him and hopefully he’ll improve from it.”