Oct. 30, 2013
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
From the moment the ball was tipped in Michigan's 117-44 exhibition win against Concordia, the Wolverines steadily put up points against their opponent. In what was largely expected to be an uneven match-up between Michigan and its cross-town NAIA opponent, the Wolverines appeared to being doing their job, yet something more had yet to come to fruition. In its first exhibition game of the season, Michigan seemed to be finding its way in the opening minutes. Then, suddenly, something clicked into place.
The spark seemed to begin when freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. arrived on the floor. On his first play of the night, the newcomer found sophomore guard Nik Stauskas open in the corner his first assist in a Michigan jersey.
But while the freshman made an impact immediately off the bench, he would have to wait for his true moment to arrive. Walton missed his first shot attempt, and Concordia narrowed Michigan's lead to just three points in the first half. The point guard would add one more assist, to sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III, before being subbed out of the game. However, everything was new for Walton.
"For him and Zak (Irvin), that game was a blur," said head coach John Beilein. "We practice one way, but they (Concordia) were running a completely different set of rules. They were running a completely separate offense than we run."
But a certain intensity had undoubtedly been brought to the game. With 12:20 left in the first half, Robinson netted two free throws to begin a 19-0 run by the Wolverines that would leave the Cardinals behind, 33-9. And shortly after Concordia ended its drought, Walton would solidify his role in Michigan's next run.
Derrick Walton Jr.
What brought about his sudden spurt?
"Just getting comfortable with the guys around me and getting used to the bright lights," Walton said.
In just over a minute, Walton scored seven points and recorded a steal and an assist. A few minutes later, he punctuated the moment with an assist in transition to sophomore guard Caris LeVert for a dunk, which sent cheers throughout Crisler Center.
"Coach is always telling me to be aggressive," Walton said. "That spurt was just me being aggressive."
"Derrick's been showing he's capable of that the whole preseason in practice," Stauskas added. "We're looking for him to get more comfortable and continue to do that during the season."
Runs highlighted by the play of particular individuals, including Walton's single-handed seven-point run, appeared to delineate the game. Early on, Stauskas led the team in scoring. In the second half, Robinson was instrumental in helping Michigan build on its lead, ending the night with a game-high 33 points. Yet, much more was at work in Michigan's victory than talented individuals.
"The two things I saw was the quickness on defense that we have -- that was the big thing -- then the sharing of the ball," said Beilein.
Any game in which the 100-point barrier is broken is a clear sign of a strong offensive performance. The runs, which Stauskas, Walton and Robinson helped establish, highlighted Michigan's scoring ability as well. But when the team seemed to click after Walton's first assist of the night, it was not merely the offense that was sparked. While Michigan scored 117 points on the night, it also defeated Concordia by a margin of 73 points.
Nik Stauskas (L) and
Derrick Walton Jr.
"This whole preseason defense has been the main focus for us," Stauskas said. "We understand that we've got a lot of talented guys who can score, but defense is what's really going to win games. I think when guys are playing well offensively, they become a little more motivated to play good defense. I definitely think there's a relation between the two."
This certainly appeared to be true in Walton's case. As he headed back onto defense on one play, he slapped the floor and looked up with the same intensity he had demonstrated on offense.
Not only can good offense motivate good defense, but it can create scoring opportunities too. Seven of the points scored in Michigan's 19-0 run in the first half came off Concordia turnovers. By the end of the night, the Cardinals had turned the ball over 23 times. When Michigan came together, it was not just on one end of the court. And perhaps the greatest reason why is because they played as a team.
Walton's first appearance in front of the crowd at the Crisler Center was a defining moment in Michigan's victory. But the Wolverines' 26 assists are a testament to the fact that no one player controlled the game. Rather, individual plays inspired the team on both ends of the court.
"I think it literally comes down to the fact that this team likes playing with each other and we love sharing the ball," Stauskas said.
Added Walton, "That's the best way to go far and reach our goals. Tonight we wanted to showcase our unselfishness and how we're going to play together."