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Zavier Simpson returns from one-game ban, 'grateful to be back' with Michigan

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

New York — On Tuesday, Zavier Simpson was in Ann Arbor and watched his Michigan teammates take on Nebraska in a critical Big Ten game over 700 miles away.

Fast forward to Saturday, Simpson found himself at the free-throw line with the Wolverines clinging to a two-point lead with 24 seconds to play at Madison Square Garden.

It was a snapshot of a roller-coaster week for Simpson  one where he went from serving a one-game suspension to hitting the clinching free throws in a 69-63 win over No. 25 Rutgers.

“It's a blessing,” Simpson told a small group of reporters after Saturday’s contest. “I'm grateful to be back with my team, playing on the court and representing this great university.”

Michigan's Zavier Simpson (3) drives past Rutgers's Daniel Lobach (2) during the second half.

Simpson, a senior co-captain, was suspended on Monday by coach Juwan Howard for violating an undisclosed team policy. He didn’t travel with the team to Nebraska and missed the first game of his four-year career, ending a streak of 81 straight starts and 135 consecutive games played.

As a result, Simpson found himself in an unfamiliar role as a spectator.

"It was pretty disappointing," he said. "I just cheered my teammates on. Called them at halftime, texted (injured) Isaiah (Livers) during the game, giving him my thoughts from my point of view. I'm grateful that they got the win."

Simpson said he continued to practice with the team throughout the week while Howard looked further into his transgression. Then after Friday's practice, Simpson received the news in front of his teammates that he had been reinstated.

In a news release sent out by the program announcing his reinstatement, Simpson said in a statement he made “some disappointing decisions” last weekend that violated team rules.

When given the opportunity to clarify what led to his suspension and what steps were required for him to return to action, Simpson declined.

"It's something in the past,” Simpson said. “We're moving forward, trying to win games."

Howard said he spoke with athletic director Warde Manuel before they made the decision to lift Simpson's suspension. Simpson said he spoke with Manuel, too, but declined to provide any details from their conversation.

Simpson said he also addressed the team like “a captain should” after being suspended.

"My message was basically that if you learn from the past, continue to move forward,” Simpson said. “Don't worry about me, that's what I told them. I'm still with you guys through it all, on and off the court, no matter where I'm watching it.

“Continue to handle business and that's what they did. That's the most I could ask for them. Worry about me less and take care of business.”

While several Wolverines were stunned to hear of Simpson’s suspension, they made it clear they still supported him and had his back.

Likewise, Simpson said he received nothing but “positive feedback” from his teammates throughout the week.

“That's what makes us. I feel like we're a brotherhood,” Simpson said. “We're not just strong on the court or there’s not fake energy out there. We're actually happy for each other on and off the court. We're definitely a brotherhood foundation.”

At the end of a challenging week, Simpson was back on the court making contributions — instead of watching from hundreds of miles away again.

“At the end of the day, you learn from your lessons because you've got to continue to move forward,” said Simpson, who finished with 10 assists and made four free throws in the final 24 seconds.

“It's not about what happens, it's about how you react from it. Something in the past that happened, just got to reflect on things of that matter and move forward and try to go out here and get a dub, which we did.”

Livers out again

Junior forward Isaiah Livers was sidelined for the second straight game and eighth contest this season with a lower body injury.

He didn’t participate in any of the team’s pregame warm-ups and wore a suit on the sidelines during the game.

There have been varying descriptions regarding Livers’ ailment this time around. He hurt himself in his return from a six-game absence against Illinois last week and appeared to aggravate his left groin injury on a nearly identical play that hobbled him on Dec. 21 against Presbyterian.

During Tuesday’s telecast against Nebraska, broadcasters said Livers was out with a left hip injury. On Friday, teammate David DeJulius said he thinks Livers is dealing with another groin injury “but it’s not nearly as bad.”

Michigan’s game notes state Livers left the Illinois game “after aggravating the hip and leg area around his previous injury.”

Howard, meanwhile, has only described it as a “day-to-day injury.”

"I'm not a doctor. I don't get paid for it,” Howard said Friday. “I am a former basketball player. When I studied here at the University of Michigan, I did not study any physics or anything dealing with the medical, so all this stuff is new stuff with me. I’m fortunate enough I had a great, healthy career. 

“I'm really dumbfounded when it comes to injuries. I'm just learning all of this."

With Saturday’s win over Rutgers, Michigan improved to 4-4 without Livers.

Slam dunks

Saturday marked Michigan's first win this season where it scored under 70 points. The Wolverines were previously 0-6 in such contests.

... Simpson recorded his 14th career game with at least 10 assists, which tied him with Gary Grant for the most in program history.

... Michigan improved to 25-11 all-time at Madison Square Garden. The Wolverines have won 10 straight at the venue, with the last lost coming in 2008 to Duke.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins