Lanky D.J. Wilson powers way to prominence for UM

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Michigan forward D.J. Wilson dunks during the fist half.

New York — D.J. Wilson’s days of being a non-factor are over, and others are starting to take notice.

After opening the season with back-to-back efficient outings off the bench, Wilson earned his first career start Thursday night and continued his emergence on basketball’s biggest stage.

Wilson recorded a double-double with 10 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and two assists in 34 minutes to help propel Michigan to a 79-61 win over Marquette in a 2K Classic semifinal at Madison Square Garden.

“Wilson really is playing well and he gives them a different dimension,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said. “For him to protect the rim like he does, offensive rebound like he does, take up space and then be able to move out on the perimeter, too, he’s a unique player.

“I think that allows them to bring a guy like (Duncan) Robinson off the bench who’s a real offensive weapon. We knew coming into the game he hadn’t shot the ball like he’s capable of and, unfortunately, he rediscovered his shooting stroke.”

Wilson replaced Robinson in the starting lineup and the switch appeared to paid dividends for both. Robinson hit his first three 3-pointers and finished with 10 points in seven minutes, while Wilson was 3-for-7 from the field, hitting a 3-pointer and all three of his free-throw attempts.

But Wilson’s calling card is using his lengthy frame to cause disruption on defense and aggressively attack the boards, which he’s done effectively for three straight games.

“I'm real confident in myself,” Wilson said. “I know that I need to rebound and that's something that's getting me on the floor and keeping me on the floor, so I try to do that as much as possible and let the rest of the game to come to me.”

Filling the gap

Freshman guard Xavier Simpson was thrust into extended playing time against Marquette after senior Derrick Walton Jr. picked up two quick fouls in the first half.

While it wasn’t an ideal scenario, Simpson held his own and recorded two assists, two turnovers and a block in 18 minutes.

“We knew it was going to be tough once Derrick went out with two fouls but I love how 'X' came on,” senior Zak Irvin said. “First road game, neutral game, whatever you want to call it and we didn't miss a beat when he came on the court. I think that was huge for us.”

Beilein admitted he was concerned putting Simpson in so early because he had only played 17 minutes combined over the first two games and is still getting the timing down on plays. It’s one reason why Beilein also had junior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman run the point at times when Simpson was on the court.

“(Simpson) went out there and his whole thing to just try to eliminate mistakes, just run the team, facilitate action while you grow your game,” Beilein said. “I'm glad we had that opportunity because now he's been there and I'll have more confidence in him.”