Matthews' 20-point outing for UM comes with heavy heart
Detroit — Michigan’s Moritz Wagner was sidelined with a right ankle injury and Duncan Robinson was battling a bout with laryngitis.
But both ailments failed to compare to the heartache Charles Matthews had to play through in Saturday’s 90-58 win over Detroit Mercy at Little Caesars Arena.
Last week, Matthews’ grandmother, Mary Thomas, died due to heart complications in her early 60s.
“I never had this before with three important people,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “One can't talk, one's not playing and the other we don't know what his state is going to be here. The team hugged him (Matthews) and loved him.
"She died young and she was very close. He had a special relationship with her.”
Following Friday’s practice, Matthews flew back home to Chicago with assistant coach DeAndre Haynes to make sure the team could provide transportation and he could attend the viewing that night.
Beilein gave Matthews the option to attend the funeral and stay with his family on Saturday, but the redshirt sophomore said it was important for him to play because “this is what she loved me doing.”
So on Saturday morning, Matthews and Haynes were scheduled to arrive at the airport at 10 a.m. and get to LCA by 10:30 a.m. But traffic delays caused Matthews to arrive at the arena just 30 minutes before the noon tip-off and left him scrambling to warm up for the game.
Once Matthews finally made it to the locker room, though, he was met with an outpouring of support.
"They were in incredible,” Matthews said. “As soon as I got in, Coach B just stopped his speech, gave me a hug in the middle of the pregame speech and basically was making sure I'm all right. When you see people care about you outside of basketball, they make you just run through brick walls for them."
Matthews missed the team’s film session on Friday night and the walkthrough on Saturday morning. Despite the lack of prep work, all of Matthews’ worries and problems washed away as soon as he stepped on the court.
And after a slow start, Matthews finished with a team-high 20 points and seven rebounds — with 17 of those points coming in the second half — in an inspired performance that would’ve made his grandmother proud.
"I mean, it's tough but she's in a better place now,” Matthews said. “I'm pretty sure she's watching down over me for the rest of my life, so I'm just happy we could come out here and get a win."
Wagner, a junior center, saw his streak of 55 consecutive games played come to an end on Saturday. He missed his first game since the regular-season finale his freshman year against Iowa on March 5, 2016.
Sophomore center Jon Teske received his first career start in place of Wagner and logged a team-high 28 minutes en route to his second double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis backed up Teske and scored four points before fouling out in just seven minutes.
“They're growing, they're getting better,” Beilein said of Teske and Davis. “They just need game experience right now. I'm comfortable with those two guys just learning how to play in games like this."
Beilein said Wagner will continue to rehab as Michigan readies to host Alabama A&M on Thursday night but doesn’t have an estimate for his return.
“I was optimistic because he did do some of the drills (in practice) the other day,” Beilein said. “Before the game, we wanted to test it but he felt really uncomfortable. When we met this morning he said it was sore again. I said, ‘OK, you're not going to go.’
“We'll take our time. We will not rush it back. We want him to be 100 percent if we can before we get him back on the floor and I hope that's not too long."