Walk-on freshman forward C.J. Baird talks about his deep 3-pointer that capped Michigan's 99-72 win over Texas A&M on Thursday at Staples Center. James Hawkins, Detroit News
Los Angeles — As the clock approached the final minute and Michigan began to empty its bench, walk-on freshman forward C.J. Baird’s hands started to sweat.
He knew as soon as redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis checked in with 1:25 left against No. 7 seed Texas A&M, he likely was next.
Baird got the nod with 41 seconds remaining and wasted little time recording an unforgettable highlight, capping third-seeded Michigan’s 99-72 rout Thursday at the Staples Center with a deep 3-pointer from atop the key.
“It’s every kid’s dream to play in the NCAA Tournament and when you watch it for so many years like that, I never thought I’d get to do this,” said Baird, who started the season as a student manager before moving to walk-on status. “When I shot it, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. Go in.’ I took a step back, it went in and it’s just like, ‘Oh, man.’
“I got shivers down my whole body and I was running back and I just couldn’t hold my emotion. It was one of the best feelings of my life.”
Baird said his thought process when he checked in was if the ball somehow managed to get in his hands, there was a “100 percent” chance he was going to put up a shot.
And when it did, Baird made his move with a crossover, drained a 30-footer with Texas A&M's Isiah Jasey in his face with 31 seconds left and unfurled an emotional celebration as he spun back down the court.
“I mean, every walk-on wants to go in there and shoot it, especially in the Sweet 16 when you touch the ball,” Baird said. “I told Ibi Watson when I got in there, ‘If you give me the ball, I’m going to shoot it.’ He said, ‘OK, do it then.’
“Jaaron (Simmons) called me up and I was kind of nervous when he did. I was like, ‘Oh they actually want me to do this.’ I didn’t think they’d actually let me do it. It was definitely one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
For Simmons, Baird’s brief moment in the spotlight was well-deserved because he knows how much time and effort the scout team puts in behind the scenes.
“It was great. He works just as hard as any of us,” Simmons said. “I told him come get the ball because they never get a chance to get in the game, C.J. never gets a chance to get in the game. Even if he didn’t make the shot, just getting a shot up would feel good for him.
“I told him, ‘Come get the ball,’ and I think he was surprised I told him to come get the ball. He did his thing at the top of key and splashed a 3.”
Baird became the eighth Wolverine to make a 3-pointer in the blowout victory, which set a program record in a NCAA Tournament game. It was also Michigan’s 14th made 3-pointer, a mark that was tied for the second-most in a tournament game.
Michigan center Moritz Wagner on the dream and decision to play for Michigan Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
Baird said his previous career highlight was scoring his first basket against Alabama A&M on Dec. 21 — the only points he scored in two appearances this season. The other was game-winner he hit with 20 seconds left in high school at Novi Detroit Catholic Central to beat U-D Jesuit when it was ranked No. 5 in state.
“But this takes the cake,” Baird said. “Nothing beats a Sweet 16 (basket). Nothing beats that. It’s even better because the whole crowd’s behind you, like, ‘I gotta root for the walk-on.’ It’s pretty cool.”
And not just for Baird, but for the entire Michigan team.
Michigan assistant coach Luke Yaklich on the development of the team's defense Robin Buckson / The Detroit News
“You know what I love best? Because I didn’t watch him, and he put his fingers up like that and everything, and I watched our bench, and that shows you, when you have a non-scholarship player that the team likes that much,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “But C.J. gives us fits in practice. He can really shoot it. But here’s a kid who started out as a manager. We didn’t have room on the roster. He was a manager.
“He ended up just — he goes into the game, and he just gives us buckets in practice, too. Those are great moments. Those are the ones I may remember more than others.”
Michigan vs. Florida State
Tip-off: 8:49 p.m. Saturday, Staples Center, Los Angeles
Records: No. 3 seed Michigan 31-7; No. 9 seed Florida State 23-11
Up next: Winner advances to Final Four vs. Loyola Chicago-Kansas State winner.