LOS ANGELES — Michigan’s warmup shirts have only four words written on the front.
“Do More Say Less.”
Moe Wagner nailed that first part Thursday evening at Staples Center. Michigan’s junior big man dropped in 21 points in Michigan's emphatic 99-72 Sweet 16 victory over Texas A&M.
He’d combined for only 17 points, total, in the Wolverines’ first two victories.
The “Say Less” part of that motto, though, it still a work in progress. Wagner is an excitable fellow on the basketball court, and he tends to talk a bit from time to time. Especially when he’s matched up with another big man, as he was with A&M’s Tyler Davis for much of Thursday’s contest. If you watched closely, the two had pretty consistent dialogue on the court.
Wagner’s enthusiasm on the court, though, was impossible to miss.
It’s always impossible to miss.
“That’s just Moe. We love it,” point guard Zavier Simpson told Sporting News. “Who doesn’t want a guy on the team that shows that expression and that attitude on the court? That’s good. We believe in him. Him having energy, it’s contagious.”
The faces Wagner makes out there are, well, really something.
After a breakaway dunk in the second half, he ran back up the court with his arms out like he was flying. After knocking down one of his three 3-pointers on the night, he threw up three fingers on each hand. And so on and so forth.
“He’s so emotional, which is awesome, but sometimes it’s like, ‘Dude, settle down a little bit.’ ” Duncan Robinson said with a laugh. “I’m used to it. We’re roommates, have been playing together for three years now. I’m used to it. It’s fun, obviously with the crowd when he’s getting up and going crazy. It’s good. But at times, you’ve got to tone it down."
The Wolverines feed off Wagner’s energy, of course, but that’s not the only thing he brings to the table. Remember how he combined for 17 points in the first two games and scored 21 against A&M? It’s not a coincidence that Michigan struggled to put away Montana and needed a buzzer-beater to knock off Houston, but steamrolled A&M.
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The Wolverines are a far better team when Wagner is knocking down shots. Against the Aggies, he made all three of his 3-point attempts and went 5 of 9 on his 2-point attempts.
“It just opens up the rest of the floor for everybody,” assistant coach Luke Yaklich told SN. “It’s a hard thing to guard. Obviously, in the NBA, guy who can pick and pop and shoot at that position, they put pressure on everybody else to make rotations. Are you going to switch the ball screen? Are you going to rotate to him? It just causes indecision all the time. He’s a special kid, a special player.”
When the opposing team is indecisive because of Wagner, that’s the opening the other Wolverines need. Against A&M, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had 24 points and seven assists, Charles Matthews had 18, Simpson had 11 and Robinson had 10.
“He plays with great passion. More than anything with Moe, he loves his teammates,” Yaklich said. “He loves being coached every day. His willingness to learn and expand and take criticism is phenomenal. He’s got a lot of things going for him.”
Right now, a trip to the Elite Eight sits atop of that list.