Ann Arbor — It was another challenging week for Zavier Simpson.
Details emerged that the senior guard struck a utility pole while driving a vehicle that was registered to athletic director Warde Manuel’s wife, Chrislan, at around 3 a.m. on Jan. 26 and lied to police about it.
The incident led to Simpson receiving a one-game suspension for violating the team’s curfew and a civil infraction for driving too fast for road conditions.
Simpson didn’t let the recent headlines weigh him down and serve as a distraction in Saturday’s 77-68 win over No. 16 Michigan State at Crisler Center.
“I didn't want to be selfish and let (the off-court issues) affect me because at the end of the day, my teammates wanted this win,” Simpson said. “I can't let that come inside the locker room or anything of that matter because that would've been selfish of me. I wanted to lock in on this game, lock in on practice and do it for my teammates.”
Simpson finished with a team-high 16 points on 13 shots, dished out eight assists and helped the Wolverines (14-9, 5-7 Big Ten) outscore the Spartans by 15 points in the 31 minutes he was on the court.
Simpson also had a hand in all 11 of Michigan’s made 3-pointers, primarily via assists. He made Michigan State pay for sagging off him and going under screens by finishing 4-for-7 from beyond the arc.
It marked just the third time in 138 career games that Simpson, a 30.4-percent 3-point shooter, made at least four 3s in a game. That wasn't lost on Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who grumbled about it several times during his postgame presser.
But given everything that had gone on this week — including Simpson’s late flagrant-1 foul in Tuesday’s loss to Ohio State — Michigan coach Juwan Howard said he wasn’t surprised Simpson was able to play at a high level.
Senior center Jon Teske also credited Simpson for how he handled everything on and off the court, and gave his full attention to the team the past few days.
The Detroit News' James Hawkins and John Niyo recap Michigan's 77-68 win over Michigan State that snapped a four-game skid in the rivalry series. The Detroit News
“It didn't bother him,” Teske said. “That's outside noise. Yeah, we lost earlier in the week and everything is kind of going on with him, but we all knew he was locked in for this game because he knew this was a big game for us. He's a leader of this team and he had to lead us. That's what he did.”
And it didn’t seem to bother the team, either. When junior forward Isaiah Livers was asked if the all off-the-court talk affected Simpson this week, Livers said he “forgot that even happened.”
“See what I mean, that's how focused we are as a team,” Livers said. “I honestly didn't even say that much to him about it. I just knew he was a leader, knew he was taking care of it. All I saw was positivity from him, chin up, ready to take on the next challenge."
Simpson insisted the traffic incident wasn't on his mind — he noted playing basketball clears his head — and pushed the self-inflicted chatter to the side.
As a result, he played a key role in snapping a four-game slide to Michigan State and helped Michigan bounce back from a tough loss, which “feels good no matter what you’re going through.”
"As humans, we've got to be able to be selfless,” Simpson said. “My teammates work hard. They were not involved in any of it, so that would've been selfish of me to have that on my mind during practice or during outside-the-court activities when we were having team bonding.
“To have that on my mind, I wouldn't be able to play to my best ability. I had to come out here and play hard for my teammates and the fans that came out to watch us.”
Simpson added that while there is going to be “a lot of controversy and assumptions,” he felt he owed it to everyone on the team to leave what happened two weekends ago behind him.
When asked if he would like to clear up any misconceptions regarding the police report and car wreck, Simpson reiterated he was looking to move past it — just like last week when he addressed his one-game suspension after the Rutgers game.
"We all make mistakes,” Simpson said. “I made a mistake. I owned up to it, apologized to my teammates, my family, my friends and also the fans.
“I'm just glad that I'm safe and no one else was involved. At the end of the day, I wanted to come out here and play hard for my teammates because a situation like that, things could've got worse. I'm just blessed to be here, so thank God for that.”
Teske provided the highlight of the game midway through the second half when he threw down a one-handed alley-oop slam in transition off a lob from junior guard Eli Brooks.
"Eli and I kind of locked eyes," Teske said. "He threw that ball up and I went up there and I'm not sure how I got that. It's kind of all a blur right now."
Livers said he almost missed the highlight-reel play because he had just checked out and had his head down on the bench.
"Next thing I know, I look up and see Sleep (Teske's nickname) is in the air with one hand tomahawking it," Livers said. "I'm just like, 'Wow.' I didn't know he had that in him, to be honest with you."
The dunk seemed to energize the Wolverines and came during the early part of a 16-6 run that helped Michigan open up a 12-point lead with under seven minutes to play.
"I really enjoy seeing our players normally catch the ball with two hands on the offensive end and the defensive end," Howard said. "When he caught it with one hand, I was nervous. I didn't think it would go in and the ball crept in there.
"It was good that when he made it there was emotion after that play. It inspired the group, it inspired the crowd."
The majority of the Wolverines wore black socks for the game against the Spartans. The lone exception was sophomore guard David DeJulius, who explained on Twitter the dye in colored socks give his feet rashes.
According to Livers, the sock choice was in honor of Howard, a member of the famed Fab Five that popularized black socks and baggy shorts.
Howard said he didn't notice his players wearing them, but the news brought a smile to his face.
"That's the second time they surprised me with black socks," Howard said. "When we were in the Bahamas and we played against North Carolina, our players wore black socks and I didn't see it. They told me after the game that they won that game for me and they wore the black socks for me. That's special, man."