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Michigan's Zavier Simpson finds his shooting eye

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Michigan guard Zavier Simpson takes and hits a 3-pointer against Western Michigan in Saturday's win.

Ann Arbor — Just keep shooting.

That’s all junior guard Zavier Simpson did when Northwestern didn't bother to close out and contest his shots beyond the arc two weeks ago.

And when Western Michigan used the same strategy this past weekend, Simpson didn’t hesitate to let it fly.

Same mentality but a different result as the defensive plan backfired and Simpson knocked down three 3-pointers — all in the second half — to help the Wolverines hold off the Broncos in Saturday’s 70-62 win.

“Of all the times he decides to hit 3s,” Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins said. “We were playing off of him and he hit the first one and we were like, 'It's OK guys.' He hit the second one and we were like, 'Hang in there.'

“After he hit the third one, our guy that was guarding him was like, 'You want me to go get him?' 'Yeah, we probably ought to go get him.' He hit big shots when they needed to.” 

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It’s something Simpson was unable to do against the Wildcats. He clanked all five of his 3-point attempts in the second half, lowlighted by misses on three consecutive possessions within a 62-second span.

It led to Simpson being benched in favor of sophomore guard Eli Brooks for the final six minutes of the game and Michigan coach John Beilein to studying his launch angle in the following days.

But against the Broncos, Simpson redeemed himself and stayed true to his word that he was going to make the next team that gave him room to shoot pay.

He knocked down two 3-pointers early in the second half during Michigan’s 24-4 run that resulted in a 12-point lead. His last deep ball came with 8:05 to go and gave the Wolverines a 10-point advantage, which ended up being their last double-digit lead until the final minute.

And even though Simpson had gone six games without making a 3-pointer and entered Saturday’s contest on an 0-for-10 drought from 3-point range, it was the type of shooting performance Beilein expected.

“He's been doing that. We got in practice (Friday), I drew up a play for him to hit a 3 and he did it,” Beilein said. “We ended practice doing the same type of defense they were playing with him here. He's got great confidence and that's something that we're not going to give up on.

“Are we drawing up plays (in games) for him to shoot 3s? Probably not. But when they're just sitting in the paint like they were, he's got to shoot it or we're playing four-on-five. So that’s big. He's had four (made 3-pointers) in one game, three in another game. It absolutely shows what type of young man he is. He's terrific.”

Sophomore guard Jordan Poole said when Simpson can knock down long-range shots it adds a dynamic, but even when he’s missing it doesn’t “make or break” the offense.

And if teams don’t think Simpson can shoot, that doesn’t matter. What matters is the belief Simpson has in his jumper and the work he’s put in to not think twice when teams dare him to pull the trigger.

“We know what shots he can make, what shots he can't,” Poole said. “You can't think like, 'All right, I missed so I'm not going to shoot anymore,' because then that becomes an entirely different psychological game. If you're open and you're getting open shots, you practice so much so shoot them and I think that's what X continues to do.”

Even if the deep balls aren't falling, redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews said the Wolverines can count on Simpson to not be deterred and just keep bringing it each and every game.

“I mean, I see him make them (3-pointers) all the time. You all judge him based off if he makes shots or not and he does so many of the little things that helps — matter of fact he does so many of the big things to help this team win,” Matthews said. “But if he's not making the free throws or he's not making the 3-point shot, he gets criticized. People can see the intensity and the leadership he brings to this team, the fire he brings and all the other intangibles.

“But he makes shots, everybody is happy. When he misses them, he's not the best player. X does so much for this team.”

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins