Charles Matthews shakes off indecision, becomes Michigan’s Mr. Clutch again

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Michigan guard Charles Matthews smiles late in the second half of Michigan's win over Wisconsin.

Ann Arbor — Consider it the resurrection of redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews.

When Matthews backed down a Rutgers defender in the post and buried a turnaround jumper last week, Michigan coach John Beilein grabbed him at the next stoppage, looked him in the eye and told him, “That’s who you are, Charles. And don’t think anything different.”

“Those turnaround shots at the beginning looked like we were back at Villanova the way he started that game,” Beilein said following the win at Rutgers. “That’s who he is.”

When Matthews took over in the second half and delivered clutch shot after clutch shot down the stretch in Saturday’s 61-52 win over Wisconsin, it looked like another time — last season's NCAA Tournament when he showed how high his and the Wolverines’ ceiling can be.

“This is what I envisioned for him when he came here,” Beilein said. “There's been times in the games that he's not sure what he should do. Should he shoot it? Should he take it to the basket? Should he pass it? With the exception of the first half … he had a great mix of making those decisions.”

Over the past month, though, uncertainty bled into Matthews’ offensive numbers. Entering Saturday’s contest, Matthews was averaging eight points, shooting 31.4 percent from the floor and recording as many assists (1.7) as turnovers over the past six games.

But the indecision that had infiltrated his game? There was none of that on Saturday over the final 20 minutes.

Matthews was decisive and dynamic. He had a hand in 17 straight points for Michigan (22-2, 11-2 Big Ten) by dumping off passes to junior center Jon Teske for a pair of three-point plays, tipping out a missed shot that led to a second-chance layup by sophomore guard Jordan Poole, and scoring four straight baskets around the rim.

“With most players it's very contagious; you just make a shot and all of sudden you say, ‘I got it going. I made two, I've got it going,’” Beilein said. “You miss two or three in a row, it's really hard to make the fourth, fifth or sixth.

“There's no magic in that either. He made shots and now all of sudden he made more shots because he relaxed. He's not pressing. That's what is really important and if you're going to be good player you cannot be afraid to miss, or you can't press if you miss two or three in a row.”

According to Beilein, he saw a weakness in Matthews’ defensive matchup and exploited it by dialing him up often in ball-screen situations.

That meant Matthews wasn’t just standing around in the corner. He was moving. He was attacking. He was overpowering his defender. He was picking his spots and exploding to the rim.

Everything came together for Matthews — “He was seeing it better, shooting it better, reading it better,” Beilein said — as he racked up a team-high 18 points on 9-for-15 shooting to go along with his usual harassing defense in a low-possession game where every decision mattered.

“I thought we let him get too comfortable,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “In the second half he got free in the post on us and got some confidence. When you get easy baskets like that then the jump shots and intermediate ones and the contested ones become easier because he's got some confidence and the basket looks bigger.

“We allowed that to happen in some regards, but obviously it's a credit to Charles because he made plays. He's done that for them. He makes big shots and once he got going, he was hard to stop.”

That was evident in the final 90 seconds when Matthews turned into a closer with two cold-blooded buckets — ones he might’ve tried to force instead of letting come to him in recent weeks.

He drained a fadeaway shot along the baseline to put Michigan up five and sealed the victory with a shot clock-beating, fall-away jumper from the free-throw line with 23 seconds remaining.

“I feel like the moment you start thinking you’re in a slump, that’s going to continue going,” Matthews said. “I always come into a game like, 'All right, this is it. Let me get going.' 

“I never doubted myself. I understand as a player you go through these times. There's going to be more times in my career where I have bad games. I've got a lot of basketball left in me. I never got discouraged and I'm going to continue to shoot my way out of any bad moment.”

Even as the missed jumpers and indecisiveness seemingly put a strain on his game, Matthews shook it all off.

“I've got a pretty short memory,” he said. “That's probably why I miss so many shots when I do. Sometimes I will because I don't care. I'm just going to shoot the next one. People might hate it, but that's just how I am.”

But who Matthews can be? If anybody forgot, he put that on display Saturday.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins