Long ball finally starts to drop for Michigan's Franz Wagner

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — It was only a matter of time before the deep ball started to drop for freshman wing Franz Wagner.

As a highly touted prospect who played in Germany’s top league last year, Wagner earned a reputation as a long-range marksman and perimeter threat whose strength was knocking down outside shots.

While that hadn’t shown over his first six games, Wagner finally put it on display during a breakout 21-point performance in Saturday’s 71-70 overtime loss to No. 10 Oregon.

“I felt good,” Wagner said. “Like I said last time, sometimes you have a good offensive game, sometimes you don't. You just have to take what the defense gives me and stay confident out there. I think everybody does that on our team and I think we have to continue to do that.”

Michigan guard Franz Wagner (21) and forward Isaiah Livers react with Michigan forward Brandon Johns Jr. (23) after Johns blocks a shot in the second half.

Wagner dialed it in from the start as he buried a 3-pointer from the wing to open the game’s scoring. While that proved to be his only basket of the first half, Wagner heated up after halftime and came through with several big shots.

He buried his second 3 early in the second half when Michigan started to claw its way out of a double-digit deficit. His third deep ball capped a 10-1 run where he scored eight points and helped Michigan take a 51-48 lead with 7:46 left in regulation.

Then after the teams carried their back-and-forth battle into overtime, Wagner opened the extra session with another 3-pointer that sent the Crisler Center crowd into a frenzy.

He finished 8-for-13 from the field — accounting for nearly a third of his team’s 25 made field goals — and 4-for-7 from 3-point range. In the second half and overtime, Wagner went 7-for-8 from the floor and scored 18 points.

“My teammates picked me up at halftime, telling me to stay confident and be myself,” Wagner said. “That really helped me, I think, in being more aggressive and being more confident and taking the shots that I can make.”

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The efficient performance marked the first time he shot above 50 percent from both inside and beyond the arc in a game this season. It also helped snap a cold stretch for Wagner, who was coming off an outing where he missed numerous open looks against Illinois and entered Saturday’s contest shooting 21.7 percent (5-for-23) from 3-point range.

While that number could be attributed to rust and a lack of rhythm that comes with missing four games with a fractured right shooting wrist, Wagner said he didn’t do anything different and maintained the same approach on Saturday.

The only difference is his persistence to keep letting it fly finally paid off.

"No adjustments, no nothing,” Wagner said. “I just did the same thing that I did before and shots just started falling. I'm confident in what I do because I give my best every day. When you do that you're not nervous or anything, you don't have to adjust. The confidence comes from working.”

Even throughout Wagner’s shooting slump, coach Juwan Howard’s confidence in his ability never waned because he knew it was going to take time for Wagner to return to form.

A form that Wagner showcased on Saturday.

“Franz, you all think he's been having a bad stretch,” Howard said. “For me, he's been playing great for us because Franz has been affecting game in other ways other than putting the ball in the basket. He's been out there defending, rebounding against bigs who may have 50-70 pounds more than him, some are also taller than him. He's been competing and diving on the floor for loose balls. He's been affecting the game in different ways.

“(Saturday) was his night and shots went in. There were also good looks and he was aggressive. That goes to show you that Franz is a guy who is a competitor.”


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins