Wolverines' seldom-used Zeb Jackson shines in NCAA Tournament spotlight
West Lafayette, Ind. — Michigan’s Zeb Jackson had appeared in just four games since February, had played a total of 12 minutes in March and hadn’t scored a point in over two months.
That didn’t stop coach Juwan Howard from calling the freshman guard’s number in the NCAA Tournament and turning to Jackson in the first half of Saturday’s 82-66 first-round win over Texas Southern at Mackey Arena.
The move paid dividends as Jackson turned in his best outing of the season, tallying six points on 2-for-5 shooting and two rebounds in eight minutes off the bench.
“I've been seeing Zeb work hard every day in practice,” Howard said. “Every day before practice, when I'm walking past the weight room and there's a window…he's always the first guy in the gym. It says a lot about his character, about his passion for the game, about his attitude.
“Zeb has not walked in our building one time and had a session about me, me, me, I, I, I, or asked anyone to feel sorry for him. I knew that, if I put him in, he's going to be able to provide.”
That’s what he did. During a first-half stretch where Michigan’s offense was trudging along, Jackson came in and provided an immediate jolt. He buried two 3-pointers to bookend a 10-2 spurt that turned a nine-point lead into a 17-point advantage.
“I didn't know the type of scoring he's going to do. It's not about all that,” Howard said. “He knows that, when I say you're open, take your shot, and make or miss, live with the results. But it's not about the point of making any shots. He just played very solid basketball.”
Not only were the contributions a boon for the Wolverines, they were a huge boost for Jackson.
Heading into Saturday’s contest, Jackson had scored just 10 points on 3-for-20 shooting in 14 appearances. More importantly, he hadn’t made a 3-pointer all season and missed all nine of his attempts.
That drought finally came to an end when Jackson drained a deep 3-pointer from the left wing with 9:55 left in the first half — his first points since Michigan’s Jan. 16 loss at Minnesota. A little over two minutes later, he doubled his 3-point total with another bomb from the right wing.
“That just builds confidence,” grad transfer guard Mike Smith said. “Your confidence comes from when you see the ball go in or when you do something good. You start to get confident in that area of the game, and that's going to help him down the stretch, especially next game when his name is called.”
In addition to Jackson, freshman forward Terrance Williams II also saw meaningful first-half action and the duo had a hand in Michigan's 17 bench points, which can make all the difference in surviving at this stage.
With LSU up next in the second round, the hope is Jackson will be able to build off those valuable minutes and be ready to deliver if needed once again.
“Zeb is a tremendous hard worker. He wants to be out there and help us,” Smith said. “Each and every day he wakes up at like 8:00 a.m., 7:00 a.m., and gets shots up. That shows the character of Zeb. He's going to be a tremendous player for Michigan. I believe it, and I'm saying it now, and I'm going to stick with it.
“Today, he just showed a little bit of what he has to his game and came out there and did a great job.”
Sending a message
Senior forward Isaiah Livers was sporting a #NotNCAAProperty T-shirt while sidelined for Saturday’s game with a foot injury.
The hashtag started trending on social media Wednesday night before the start of the NCAA Tournament as players called for name, image and likeness reform.
Livers is one of several Big Ten standouts at the forefront of the latest athlete-led movement, along with Rutgers' Geo Baker and Iowa's Jordan Bohannon, pushing for the NCAA to change rules preventing college athletes from earning money for things like endorsements, sponsorship deals and personal appearances.
Howard said he didn’t notice Livers’ shirt because he was “so locked into the game, game prep” but Smith did.
“Isaiah, he's going to speak his mind,” Smith said. “Everybody has their own opinion, and he speaks his mind all the time. That's all I can say to that.”