UM’s Charles Matthews missing his ‘swag’ during slump
University Park, Pa. — February has been a confounding month for Charles Matthews.
After bursting onto the scene and using his athleticism to seemingly score at will throughout the nonconference slate, he hasn’t been able to have quite the same explosive impact in Big Ten play.
But in recent weeks, Matthews, a redshirt sophomore wing, has hit an ugly rough patch where he’s looked out of sorts on the floor and, at times, like a completely different player.
It appeared to hit a crescendo and a new low point in Wednesday’s 72-63 win at Penn State when Matthews was held scoreless for the first time all season. He finished 0-for-5 from the field, committed three turnovers — two in the first five minutes of the game — and played just 17 minutes, his second-fewest of the season.
It wasn’t all bad, though, as Matthews also had two blocks and two key second-half assists on 3-pointers that helped the Wolverines regain the lead for good.
“I’m watching Charles right now and he had three turnovers and the other day (against Ohio State) he started out the first half with three turnovers, but not all of them are his fault,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He’s just not confident right now about anything, and that’s my job to get him back there.
“We’re shooting after practice. We’re showing him extra film. We’re trying to just get him back because we need him. He won a lot of games for us earlier in the year, but right now it’s not fair to the other guys when he’s not playing with the same swag that he has earlier.”
Over the last five games, Matthews is averaging 6.4 points, is shooting 34.1 percent (14-for-41) from the field, including 11.1 percent (1-for-9) from 3-point range, and leads the team with 14 turnovers.
He’s reached double figures in scoring twice during the stretch, with one being a 10-point effort against Iowa that came in a 4-for-16 shooting performance. Prior to that, Matthews was held to single digits just once in 10 Big Ten games after the New Year.
“I think right now as we coach him he’s probably thinking too much,” Beilein said. “We’re trying to get him to look at some other things. … But sometimes he gets himself into tough spots and we got to teach him to ease his game a little bit just to be able to make simple plays.”
Freshman guard Jordan Poole has helped pick up the slack the past two games, scoring 15 points against Ohio State and 13 points at Penn State while receiving extended minutes. He also started the second half in Matthews’ place for the first time all season against the Nittany Lions.
Beilein attributed part of Poole’s recent surge to his ability to make simple plays, which is something Matthews has been struggling with, particularly when he has the ball in transition.
“I think he’s heading in the right direction, that’s for sure, of what winning basketball really looks like,” Beilein said of Poole. “He’s sort of learning what to do at the right times, but he’s got so much swag to him we can teach the other stuff. He’s got so much confidence we can teach the other stuff. We can’t teach his DNA right now.”
But Michigan can help teach Matthews to rediscover his swag and shooting touch, something his teammates are confident he’ll be able to do with the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments quickly approaching.
“I think Charles is at his best when he’s really aggressive, and I think we’re at our best when he’s really aggressive,” fifth-year senior forward Duncan Robinson said. “So, there’s nothing but encouragement coming from all the players towards him. We know he’s going to have good games moving forward and we can count on that.”