'Incredible': Simpson's triple-double launches Michigan past Ohio State
Ann Arbor — Michigan junior guard Zavier Simpson was on the cusp of joining an exclusive group.
But with 3:08 left in Tuesday night's showdown against Ohio State, Simpson was unaware he was closing in on a triple-double until the final media timeout. sd
"Two of my assistant coaches whispered to me, 'Get another rebound,'" Simpson recalled. "That's when I looked up and was like, 'Wow, this is real.'"
It soon became a reality. With a defensive board with 2:49 remaining, Simpson became the sixth Wolverine to achieve the feat and capped a brilliant all-around performance that powered No. 5 Michigan to a 65-49 win at Crisler Center.
Simpson finished with 11 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds and no turnovers to become the first Michigan player to record the milestone since Derrick Walton Jr. did on Dec. 19, 2015.
Simpson also added his name to a short list that includes Caris LeVert, Darius Morris, Manny Harris and Gary Grant on the same night he became the 15th Wolverine to reach 300 career assists and 70th Michigan player to play in 100 career games.
"You can't say enough about what Zavier Simpson accomplished today," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "The triple-double is incredible. Just as big is for him to have the ball that much and have 12 assists and no turnovers. I don't recall coaching that ever. He was a spark plug this game and it means a lot to him."
While Simpson's stat line stole the show, he had a helpful supporting cast. In addition to another smothering defensive effort, sophomore guard Jordan Poole scored 15, freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis had 14 and sophomore forward Isaiah Livers added 12 for Michigan (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten), which moved back into a first-place tie atop the conference standings with Michigan State.
After Michigan held a six-point halftime lead, it was Simpson who was the catalyst throughout the second half and spearheaded a 12-2 run that helped the Wolverines blow the game open, 59-41, with 5:56 to go.
The spurt all started thanks to Simpson's defense. When Ohio State's Kaleb Wesson streaked down the court for a fast-break layup, Simpson gave hot pursuit and pulled off a chase-down block that seemingly took Wesson by surprise.
"At first I was just going to foul," Simpson said. "Then he looked at me and it felt like he gave me that kind of look like, 'Nothing is about to go down, I'm about to score and hustle back.' So that's when I wrapped around, tucked the back and I happened to come up with the ball."
The defensive highlight-reel play sent the packed Crisler Center crowd into a frenzy and seemed to energize the Wolverines.
"I didn't see it," Beilein said. "I think I turned to the bench or something. That's amazing.
"He just competes. He's relentless in his desire to win."
From there, Simpson ignited the offensive flurry by faking a pass, knocking down a 3-pointer from the wing and yelling at his hands after sinking his first deep ball after an 0-for-3 start.
It also started to put the triple-double watch in full effect.
"I haven't been shooting it well lately, but at the same time, I'm confident. I trust my shot," Simpson said. "It just hasn't been falling lately, so I yelled at my hand, 'Come back to me.' I know I'm capable of knocking shots down. That was definitely a confidence-booster for me."
Things turned chippy during the run when Simpson took exception to a screen set by Wesson that led to the two jawing at one another. Poole joined the fray with some words and junior center Jon Teske shoved Wesson away with one arm before the coaching staffs had to separate both teams.
The fracas ended with Wesson being called for common foul and each team being assessed two technical fouls — Simpson and Teske for Michigan and Keyshawn Woods and Wesson for Ohio State.
After the matters were sorted out, Simpson capped the spurt with a steal and assist on a fast-break layup by redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews that made it 56-38 with 6:35 to go.
With the game well in hand, it wasn't until the 3:56 mark that Simpson cracked double figures in scoring on a running hook shot and realized a triple-double was within his reach.
"Yeah, I was (hunting for it). But I didn't want to hunt for it too much," Simpson said. "Then again, I'm like, I don't want to miss out on this opportunity. And my teammates, they told me to get it."
After Ohio State's Jaedon LeDee misfired on a jumper, Simpson went and claimed his spot in the Michigan record book.
"Two of them could've gotten a rebound. 'Hey, I'm here!' They let it bounce," Simpson said. "You can win a lot of games with teammates doing that for their teammate. That means a lot. So big shout out to Isaiah and Charles. They helped me get that. And all of them helped me get that with the assists as well."
But Simpson wasn't done. He capped off his performance with one last assist to Livers on a fast-break dunk that provided the exclamation point before exiting to a standing ovation with 1:21 left.
"It's definitely a blessing. Definitely a special moment for myself and my teammates, as well," said Simpson, a Lima, Ohio native. " (To do it against) my home state team, a team I grew up watching, my dream school, it's definitely special."
Wesson finished with 12 points and C.J. Jackson scored 11 for Ohio State (13-7, 3-6), which shot 36.5 percent from the field (19-for-52) and committed 19 turnovers that led to 20 points.
Thanks to a mix of man and zone looks on defense, the Buckeyes were able to confuse the Wolverines and maintain a lead throughout much of the first half.
But Michigan was able to gradually pick up on what Ohio State was doing and get into a rhythm thanks in large part to one player — Simpson.
"He's a tremendous player," Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said. "He deserves a lot of credit for how he impacts winning. I think he just really impacts winning in a lot of ways.
"He's tremendous defensively, terrific communicator. Obviously he doesn't turn the ball over, makes great decisions with the ball, has made timely shots. Their team is content to kind of let him in a lot of ways dominate the ball and find guys."
By the end of the night, Simpson found himself on an elite list he almost didn't know about.
"Coach B calls him the head of the snake," Livers said of Simpson. "He's our leader. He's our point guard. He does it all for us."