Ann Arbor — It was a moment Michigan assistant coach and de facto defensive coordinator Luke Yaklich wanted enshrined and memorialized.
In the second half of Saturday’s 76-57 Big Ten opener win, a defensive breakdown led to Purdue forward Evan Boudreaux being left unattended with a clear path to the rim.
Instead of standing and watching, Jordan Poole didn’t hesitate. He rotated over and met Boudreaux at the basket, jumping straight up and forcing the Boilermaker to double-clutch and miss the shot without fouling.
“We work so hard at the same thing in practice. If I was to let a moment like that slip in practice the coaches would be on me about it, so they just hold me accountable,” Poole said. “Coach Yak, he was extremely excited. He was proud, talking about getting a T-shirt (made) and putting a picture up on the wall.”
It wasn’t the most exciting or glamorous play of Poole’s near-perfect day where finished with a team-high 21 points on 8-for-9 shooting, including 5-for-5 on 3-pointers and a tantalizing up-and-under reverse layup.
But it’s a play he certainly wasn’t making as a freshman and best illustrates his evolution as a player.
“Jordan Poole would've run right out of there last year,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “That he ran in there, we told the team it's going to be in the ‘Jump Wall Hall of Fame’ how he went up perfectly with his palms in the air.
“His numbers defensively right now are really good as we chart contested shots and missed assignments. Now I think his relationship with me is I'm giving him a little bit more leash because I realize he has bought in on those other things. Last year, he was a typical freshman and defense was not a priority. Now it's becoming a priority for him.”
While redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews, junior guard Zavier Simpson and junior center Jon Teske receive a lot of attention — and deservedly so — for Michigan’s staunch defense, Poole has shown he’s capable pulling his weight, just like he is on the offensive end.
Against the Boilermakers, Poole put on a show with an array of crossovers and step-back moves, with his only miss coming on an open layup where the ball rolled off the rim.
But more importantly, he displayed his improved decision-making and shot selection with nothing being rushed or forced.
“Gradually he learned that less is more, and he can get better shots,” Beilein said. “Guys like that who can get their own shot and have a lot of confidence got to realize I'll take less shots, but I'll score more points. That's usually pretty motivating to people.”
Poole admitted last season he was “thirsty to come in and try to get a bucket” because he didn’t know how long he was going to play. Now as a key cog logging close to 30 minutes a game, he has a better understanding of when to pick and choose his spots, like he did on his last 3-pointer.
With roughly 5:15 left in the game, Teske drew two defenders on a pick-and-pop play atop the key and swung the ball to an open Poole, who casually pump-faked and sidestepped Purdue’s Ryan Cline. But rather than make an extra pass to Matthews, who was also open and calling for the ball in the corner, Poole calmly took a dribble and gathered himself before knocking down the 3.
“All I remember is Coach B saying is if you got an open shot and the person next to you is open, don't pass up the open shot to the open person,” Poole said. “I knew he (Cline) flew off and I had a really good look. I knew I had a couple earlier in the game and it was definitely going up, for sure.”
Purdue coach Matt Painter took notice of Poole’s improved all-around game, stating it’s easier for him to get more comfortable and in a rhythm with Michigan’s tight seven-man rotation.
“You think it's going to come easy if the coach plays me more, I'm going to get 20 (points) and you realize it's hard,” Painter said. “But he's talented. He can break you down off the dribble, he can make a pull-up, he can make 3s.
“They got kind of a perfect balance and it's hard to keep everybody happy.”
As long as Poole continues to make plays like he did on Saturday, it won’t be hard to.