Clark III impresses for Western Illinois
Oft-injured Western Illinois senior guard scores 21 to keep his team with Michigan
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- John Beilein pondered the question -- but ultimately decided that even though No. 17 Michigan looked sluggish and struggled at points during its 59-55 win over Western Illinois, the Wolverines were not looking ahead.
"I thought about that but I don't think so," Beilein said. "I trust these guys wouldn't do that. I think, Western Illinois had a bad year because they had some guys sitting out. (Western Illinois guard Ceola) Clark just controlled the pace of that game and we played hard.
"But we did not make shots and we had some times to get away where we really had some blunders."
Michigan will see many players in Hawaii who are more talented than Clark, who was the game's leading scorer with 21 points and at times looked like one of the top two players on the court along with Michigan sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr.
Heading into the loaded Maui Invitational -- that might be a concern.
1. Player of the game: Clark III
Clark was an almost impossible scout for Michigan for one easy reason. The fifth-year senior barely played last year.
A toe injury six games into the 2010-11 season ended his year. This after he finally felt healthy after blowing out his entire left knee -- he said he tore his ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus -- earlier in his career.
So this was his first competitive game where he felt healthy in a while.
"I felt real comfortable," Clark said. "I played against top competition my whole life, against guys like Derrick Rose in high school, so I felt comfortable out there and our team played well. A couple shots just didn't go our way."
Still, it was Clark who dominated the game even against a Big Ten team. He shot 4 of 9 from the 3-point line, grabbed four rebounds and made four assists. And as Beilein said, he controlled the pace of the game.
"We had so much attention on him, other guys got residual baskets out of it," Beilein said. "He's a really good player."
2. The game changed when... Jordan Morgan played his best basketball of the year
The redshirt sophomore forward, who started every game of the 2010-11 season, began this year on the bench backing up Jon Horford. Beilein inserted him into the starting lineup on Monday against Towson and kept him there Thursday night.
"I was just doing what was best for the team. I wasn't really concerned with all that," Morgan said. "I was more concerned with just doing my job and trying to win games for the team, doing what's best for the team when I got in the game.
"I didn't really get worked up with all that stuff."
In an inconsistent game for his entire team, one stretch by Morgan did two things: It turned the game and it showed flashes of what he had done last season.
Morgan made a layup with 15:46 left to give Michigan a 37-32 lead. On the next Western Illinois possession, Morgan blocked an attempted dunk by Leathernecks' guard Tommie Tyler.
Then he ran down the court and made another layup and gave the Wolverines a seven-point cushion that would be their working margin the majority of the second half.
"It was just kind of the energy that we needed at that point," Morgan said. "Opportunities presented themselves and just capitalized on them."
Free throw shooting was a bugaboo for Michigan against Western Illinois. The Wolverines made 14 of 22 free throws from the line and Beilein was displeased with that after, saying Morgan and Jon Horford "have to make foul shots" because they'll be in the paint more. Morgan went 1 of 4 from the free-throw line and Horford made both his free throws. ... Hardaway Jr. led Michigan with 16 points and had four rebounds and four assists. ... In its closest game of the season, the Wolverines shortened their rotation, playing six players -- starters Morgan, Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, Zack Novak and Evan Smotrycz along with sixth-man Stu Douglass -- more than 20 minutes each. Only two other players saw time, Matt Vogrich and Horford.
Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mikerothstein.
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