The numbers speak for themselves. In starter Jordan Morgan's absence during a 68-46 blowout over Northwestern, Michigan received a combined 16 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks out of a two-headed center position manned by redshirt sophomore Jon Horford and true freshman Mitch McGary.
But as usual, the numbers don't tell the whole story. John Beilein has his chemistry set working, and that's the story behind the story of a 20-1, No.-1 ranked crew of Wolverines.
Coaches, analysts, and casual observers have said it - Michigan plays unselfishly, despite sporting a roster loaded with talent. Sure everybody would love to start. Absolutely, players covet individual numbers. No question, in their quiet moments, many think about a basketball life beyond Crisler Center.
But in this moment, in this setting for which Michigan fans have waited like a glutton awaiting Thanksgiving, the Wolverines are willing to give as well as they receive. That makes a difference, beyond figures on a stat sheet.
Leading up to the game against Northwestern, it was obvious somebody besides Morgan would draw the starting nod. The redshirt junior rolled his ankle in grotesque fashion at Illinois, and moved about in a walking boot.
Both Horford and McGary had practiced well, and Beilein found himself in a bit of a quandary. One would start, and the other would no doubt be disappointed.
As it turned out, one of the most gregarious, likeable freshmen made it very easy on him.
"You talk about sacrifice?" Beilein beamed, after the win over the Wildcats. "Here is how part of the decision was made. We were still here, because of this prep, at eight o'clock. The kids had study hall before practice, then we ate, and we had some more film to watch.
"I said to Mitch McGary, 'Mitch, what do you feel about tomorrow? I don't know what to do yet. You both practiced well.' He said, 'Coach, I've been coming off the bench for two years. I'm cool with coming off the bench.'
"And that really helped me make that decision. That's who we have on this team. Jon was elated by it, obviously, but if it would have been the other way, Jon would have done the same thing. Jon would have said, 'Coach, whatever you want. I'm ready.'"
And there it is. Beilein, like every coach, preaches a we-not-me approach to the game. However he's doing it, the message appears to have taken root in the fertile soil of the people he's assembled to bring in the crops.
Horford tore it up, connecting on 3 of 5 shots, knocking down 4 of 5 free throws, scoring 10 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots in 20 minutes of action. Someone who has spent way too much time on the sidelines with injuries seized his moment to prove how valuable he can be.
"People need breaks, sometimes, to get an opportunity," Beilein said. "He really performed well. He's not been healthy in two years. Not what we envisioned for him. He's doing a better job of playing big. He was huge tonight. He got a couple of rebounds that only Jon Horford can get."
Horford almost shrugged off the personal gain elements of the night, focusing on what the Wolverines accomplished together.
"It always feels good to contribute to a win, and it always feels better when you're playing with guys like these guys," he said. "It makes the game fun.
"I always have a good amount of confidence about myself, but it always helps you feel more comfortable when you can get those minutes and you know your coach and your teammates trust you."
The fact that the backup big men were able to so significantly step in for Morgan did mean a lot, Horford added.
"It says a lot about the team," Horford said. "It's always next man up. Jordan was a huge part of our team, a huge part of our defense. We're just trying to make up for that."
Meanwhile, McGary stepped in with six points and 11 rebounds in 15 minutes, making both his free throws. He posed his usual threat to sideline observers, diving after a ball and careening toward the unsuspecting.
No worries, Beilein said.
"Guys like that don't seem to get hurt doing that," Beilein noted, with a shrug and a smile. "That's why he's special. At our get-away point in the first half, he somehow came up with a loose ball, threw it out and Tim [Hardaway] or Nik [Stauskas] hit a three. Huge part of the game."
Maybe an even bigger part of the game occurred the night before tipoff. In this instance, what the big men gave in Morgan's absence wasn't all captured on the stat sheet.
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial