John Niyo, Matt Charboneau and James Hawkins preview Sunday's Michigan State-Michigan Big Ten championship game. The Detroit News
Chicago — Find the hot hand.
That’s all sophomore guard Jordan Poole wanted to do in Saturday’s Big Ten tournament semifinals at the United Center.
And during the second half of a resounding 76-49 win over Minnesota, one’s hand didn’t get much hotter than sophomore forward Isaiah Livers.
Livers poured in 17 of his career-high 21 points during a 7-minute, 17-second stretch that alone tied his previous career high set on Dec. 30 against Binghamton.
“I did not realize that until I came out and Zavier (Simpson) whispered to me and I was like, 'Wow, really?'” Livers said. “I feel like I could’ve pulled from half court. It's just the confidence you've got to have playing the game.”
Livers shot 8-for-10 from the field and tied his career high with four made 3-pointers. Every deep ball came during the scorching stretch where he also had a three-point play and fast-break layup where he had to chase down a full-court pass from Poole.
“He is so open on all his shots. I don't why teams are not respecting him,” Poole said. “If I was as open as he was, my percentages would like his but I'm not.”
Yet, Poole added he hopes the lack of respect for Livers, the team’s top 3-point shooter at 44 percent, doesn’t change anytime soon.
"I hope he can still be as open as he is,” Poole said. “That's just that kind of what comes with it, what comes with the territory. If you're knocking down shots people are going to key in on you more, but I don't feel like that'll affect him. He's an amazing shooter and being able to have the confidence that he's having right now clicking at this time is huge.”
Michigan coach John Beilein said last month that Livers was “leaving too much on the table” and thought he had more to give as one of the team’s most versatile pieces.
Glimpses of that have shown over the past five games where Livers has set a career high, recorded his first double-double and scored at least 11 points four times.
“I think that the one good thing, the only good thing about Charles Matthews' injury is all of a sudden Isaiah had to be out there for 35 minutes, and it gave him confidence coming off the bench now to do what he does,” Beilein said. “He's taking the ball to the basket a little bit more. He was sort of just a shooter last year.
“He and Duncan Robinson, he wouldn't be as long as Duncan, but he did give us some good energy early, and Duncan was tremendous in February. But he gives us that outside threat, very much like (Michigan State’s Kenny) Goins has done an incredible job at Michigan State as a four man that can really shoot it.”
And seeing Livers torch the nets and pile up the points the way he did on Saturday? It was a welcome — and scary — sight to see.
“I couldn't stop smiling on the court,” freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis said. “I was having so much fun, and seeing your brother play like that and to shoot the ball and play with that kind of confidence is amazing. I loved every second of it.
“When he plays with that kind of confidence and that ability to make those shots, I feel like we're going to be a really tough team to beat.”
Michigan’s 27-point win over Minnesota is the second-largest margin of victory in a Big Ten tournament semifinal.
… Simpson has 20 assists and one turnover in Michigan’s back-to-back tournament wins. As a team, the Wolverines have 45 assists on 60 baskets.
… Michigan’s average margin of victory during its 10-game tournament win streak is 13.9 points.
… Beilein became the third coach to reach 20 wins in the Big Ten tournament, joining Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (31) and Ohio State’s Thad Matta (23).