UM's Ignas Brazdeikis puts on 'blank face,' outshines ex-teammate
Piscataway, N.J. — Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis credited Rutgers’ Eugene Omoruyi for taking him under his wing and teaching him much of what he knows.
On Tuesday night, Omoruyi might’ve regretted it.
Brazdeikis poured in a team-high 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting and outperformed Omoruyi in a battle of former Orangeville Prep teammates in No. 7 Michigan’s 77-65 win at the Rutgers Athletic Center.
“He was actually my roommate the first year of prep school for me,” said Brazdeikis, who added he’s still good friends with Omoruyi after spending the 2016-17 season together in Canada.
“It doesn't matter who I'm playing against. The other team is the enemy, so it's a blank face every time I play an opponent. Whoever is guarding me, it doesn't matter. I always look at it the same way.”
The two guarded each other on both ends for much of the contest. And despite giving up 25 pounds and two years experience to Omoruyi, Brazdeikis got the upper hand early by scoring Michigan’s first eight points and knocking down his first two attempts from 3-point range.
“He's definitely big,” Brazdeikis said. “In high school he would bully me. Now I wouldn't say he bullies me.
“It takes a lot of energy to defend a guy like that and then go along the offensive end and create plays and stuff like that. That's the kind of player I want to be. I want to be a two-way player that can defend and (perform) on the offensive end as well.”
Brazdeikis put that on full display. He muscled his way to the rim on several occasions and drew a team-high six fouls. He also exploited Rutgers’ struggles on defensive switches at the four by thriving in pick-and-pop situations with junior guard Zavier Simpson to the tune of a career-high five made 3-pointers.
Then on the other end, Brazdeikis more than held his own. He came up with a pair of key defensive stops on back-to-back possessions in the final minutes and made Omoruyi put up 17 shots to reach to 21 points.
“It was tremendous,” Michigan coach John Beilein said of Brazdeikis’ defensive effort. “And you know they went to high school together and they know each other pretty well. There they are battling against each other and Iggy has got this unique task where he's playing — because we play with two small forwards somebody has got to guard the other team's four. Then the next game he's guarding a stretch four who is mobile, can move and can fly around.
“I'm always concerned about when you're in a wrestling match at one end and then you've got to shoot an open 3 at the other end. That's hard to do. He was great in so many ways.”
Perhaps no way was better than his ability to come up with a response any time Rutgers punched back and threatened to go on a run in the second half.
When Omoruyi and the Scarlet Knights trimmed the deficit to 10 four times over a nearly eight-minute stretch, it was Brazdeikis who made sure it never dipped to single digits. He came through with big shot after big shot from beyond the arc — three times to be exact — to push the lead back to 13 and keep Rutgers out of striking distance.
“Every time we made a mistake on the defensive end he made us pay,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “He was really good. And he drove it by us, too. He's one of the best young guys in the league and he played that way.”
Former Wolverine and current Brooklyn Nets standout Caris LeVert was on hand for the game and met with the team following the win.
… Dating back to Feb. 2017, Michigan has won 13 straight games after coming off a loss.
… Michigan improved to 11-0 all-time against Rutgers.