'It feels so good': UM's Matthews returns after three-game absence
Chicago — Charles Matthews made his return.
Not just to his hometown. But to Michigan’s starting lineup.
After missing the last three games with a right ankle sprain, Matthews suited up and played his usual role in Friday night’s 74-53 win over Iowa in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals at the United Center.
Matthews finished with five points (1-for-9 shooting) and four rebounds in 25 minutes in his first game action since he suffered the injury in the first half against Michigan State on Feb. 24.
"It feels so good," said Matthews, who wore a black brace on his right ankle. "This is what I love to do. This is what I worked so hard to do. To go out there and come out here with a convincing the way we did against a hell of a program, a tournament team, it couldn't be more special right now."
Matthews said he knew he wasn't going to jump back in the fray and log his average of 30-plus minutes. Rather, Friday was more about getting back out on the floor with his teammates, getting his legs back under him and getting into a good rhythm with the NCAA Tournament on the horizon.
Matthews added he’s still not 100 percent yet, but said he feels good enough to play and isn’t worried about aggravating the injury.
“That's one thing me and Coach (John) Beilein we didn't want to do. We didn't want to preset a timetable,” Matthews said. “If I would've had to miss this game, I would've had to miss it. It was solely based off of how the foot was healing and how comfortable I felt out there.
“We're basically going off how I felt. I was dealing with a lot of pain, a lot of swelling in my foot, so we were just diligent with my recovery, diligent with my rehab and taking everything day by day.”
Earlier in the week, Beilein noted there was a possibility of keeping sophomore forward Isaiah Livers in the starting lineup and having Matthews come off the bench. But once Matthews let Beilein know he was good to go during the team's morning shootaround, Beilein talked to Livers and they agreed Matthews deserved to start.
And although Matthews’ final stat line didn’t stand out, it didn't tell the story of his defensive impact. Beilein likened Matthews to a star safety because he's the voice in the background telling everyone who to guard and he locks up his own man without help, which is something Michigan missed the last few games.
“I think he looked great,” freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis said. “He came in, he was intense, he played defense phenomenally. On offense he's finding his rhythm.
"Without him, we're definitely not the same team and it means the world having him on the court."
And for Matthews, that’s where he wants to be, especially after having to watch last weekend's loss at Michigan State that cost Michigan a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
"So frustrating, especially knowing I could help those guys out there and just my presence out there would make a difference,” Matthews said. “Coach B understood that my health is my priority and I couldn't risk re-injuring my foot.
"It was so weird, man, being out there but not really being out there. It was all about getting myself back acclimated with the team, back acclimated with your daily routine. It's fun to actually go out here and be like, 'Yeah, I'm playing now.' ”
If anybody needed any more proof why junior guard Zavier Simpson made the Big Ten's all-defensive team, he provided it.
Simpson silenced Iowa's Jordan Bohannon and held him scoreless on just two shot attempts in 27 minutes.
Bohannon entered the game averaging 11.7 points on 8.5 shot attempts this season, and it's the fourth time in 100 career games he didn't score a single point.
It was part of a dominant two-way performance that saw Simpson go 4-for-4 from the field (2-for-2 on 3s) and finish with 10 points, 11 assists, four rebounds and two steals.
"He's an all-league player," Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. "At the end of the day, they have 27 wins, and he's a guy who engineers victory. That's what he does. Some games he gets 20, some games he gets six. But he's always going to be up there with assists and steals. He gets people involved. He seems to be able to make plays at critical points in the game when they really need it, plays with an air of confidence that you need from that position.
"You know, I certainly have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I think he's one of the best players in the country. Happens to be — well, he's one of the best point guards in the country, but I'd say he's one of the best players in the country."
Simpson's 11 assists is the second-best total for any Wolverine in the conference tournament, trailing Derrick Walton Jr.’s mark of 12 against Indiana in 2016.
… Michigan is 12-0 in its opening game in the Big Ten tournament under Beilein and 7-0 against Iowa.
… Beilein was named one of 25 finalists for the 2019 Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year award. The winner will be announced April 5 at the College Insider Awards event in Minneapolis during the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four weekend.