Two silent moments.
As reporters entered the Michigan locker room after Thursday’s 63-44 loss to Texas Tech in the Sweet 16, the only sounds were murmurs from devastated Wolverines. As questions started to fly, the murmurs turned to chatters.
Two areas in the room remained silent.
The first was Zavier Simpson’s locker. The junior point guard, a candidate for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award, slinked out of the bathroom, turned his chair towards the wall and stayed in place. His eyes focused on the ground, and a towel wrapped over his ears.
It’s almost as if that was the only barrier necessary to tune out the media.
Simpson had a night to forget: 0 points on five shots. Four turnovers to one assist. His matchup was Red Raiders guard Matt Mooney, a former South Dakota Coyote that considered grad-transferring to Michigan. He generated 10 points, including two dagger 3-pointers in the second half.
His posture translated a clear message: he’s not talking about tonight. It said something more important: he’s not going to forget tonight.
This Michigan offense came into Honda Center in Anaheim as a top-20 efficiency unit per Ken Pomeroy. Now it’s No. 24. Still solid, but there’s always been the lingering concern over straight-up shooting. The effective field goal percentage (51.6%) was the lowest total since the last time the program missed the tournament in 2015.
What was Simpson thinking about that? Was it the road ahead with his own offense? He’s found ways to manufacture points with his old-school sky hook and quick-twitch drives to the rim. That never was complemented by anything resembling a jumper, as his stationary push shot pushed his 3-point average to 30.8 percent.
Is he was thinking about immediately getting back to work, his head coach cautioned that it may be time for the team to take a bit of a break.
“We can have one team meeting,” John Beilein said, “and we can’t have any practice for seven days. Our school year’s over in like two weeks after this...Do the math, guys. We started on the 29th of September (for practice) and now it is March 28th. That’s a 6-month season for college basketball, plus these kids went to Europe.”
Beilein continued to say he’ll take two weeks to think about how to move this team forward, how to improve certain players and how to address Thursday’s issues. Simpson may take that same time...
...or he’s already scheduling gym time when he returns to Ann Arbor.
The other moment involved the other captain. Plenty of players fought tears, but Charles Matthews appeared devastated. When asked questions, his answers last no more than a few seconds. Some barely registered a decibel or two.
The emotions, at least from this viewpoint, didn’t translate to a player regretting how a title run came up short. It told the story of a conflicted player. If that means he’s out the door, think about what he accomplished.
“63 wins in two years,” Beilein said. “If you take the work he did on the scout team when he was ineligible after his transfer from Kentucky, that’s three Sweet 16’s and a final, too.”
Matthews’ teammates expressed appreciation for his leadership.
“Charles has been the model of leadership, of who we want to be,” sophomore guard C.J. Baird said. “Beyond basketball, he pushes everyone to be the best that they can be...it’s tough to see him go out like that.”
Despite a solid 12 points, Matthews also recorded five turnovers. He shut down Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, an NBA Draft Top-5 hopeful, to just six points in the first half. Culver eventually broke free for 22.
Most reporters left him alone. In his quiet space, and with his heightened emotions, is it possible he won’t accept leaving Michigan like this? He’s a projected late second-rounder at this point, so bolting for the NBA Draft might not have the desired results.
In silent moments, the two captains could have come to range of conclusions.
“This is what I need to improve.” “This is where I’m going.” “This won’t end like this.”
When the silence breaks, the local media world will anxiously be awaiting the path forward for Matthews and Simpson.