ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For about two months last spring, they battled.
A thousand shots a day. Two hour workouts. Both approaching 80 percent from distance. The loser sprints.
Every workout behind closed doors.
On Tuesday, Michigan sophomores Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert brought their show to the bright lights, trading baskets all night as No. 7 Michigan routed South Carolina State, 93-59 at Crisler Center.
Both players set career scoring highs – LeVert with 24 and Stauskas with 23 – with the Crisler Center court as their personal playground.
“Me and Caris, we were together all spring and summer working out and we have shootouts all the time,” Stauskas said after the game. “I know he’s capable of doing that every night.”
It’s an unspoken competition within the game, as it was Tuesday, when the pair jumped out early, dropping five three-pointers each in the first half as the Bulldogs opened the perimeter.
By game’s end, they were feeding the No. 7 Michigan rout, with a 36-point halftime lead and, eventually, 15 made threes for the Wolverines (2-0), one off the school record.
“When you see one guy on your team gets hot, we all feed off of it,” Stauskas said. “I think that’s what happened tonight.”
What happens when there are three?
“It’s scary, a scary problem to have,” he said.
On this night, against this team, a third wasn’t necessary as the team’s most talented player and newly appointed tri-captain Glenn Robinson III tossed in an effortless 13 points and nine rebounds.
Robinson still had the highlight dunks and a three-pointer of his own, but he enjoyed watching his sophomore classmates get their turn in the spotlight.
“I’m the type of person, I never get jealous, I’m happy for them,” he said. “We score almost in spurts sometimes. I knocked down a couples shots, the Nik, then Caris. We’re all going to get our shots up, it’s our job to hit them. Caris and Nik, they’ve been in the gym, knocking down shots.”
These are the nights Michigan has needed in these four early-season games (two exhibitions and two regular season games).
With a young team finding its groove, the sophomores are expected to produce the offense and so far, they’re shining.
LeVert has led the team in scoring in both regular season games, producing a career high each time and both he and Stauskas showed their versatility, combining for nine assists and nine rebounds.
“We have a lot of guys who are capable of doing that and we have a lot of great passers, so it could be anybody’s night,” he said.
A year ago at this time, Stauskas was a stand-up perimeter shooter and LeVert was looking at a redshirt. Now, on a team with two potential All-Americans in Robinson and injured Mitch McGary, the unheralded pair is showing how they grew when no one else was watching.
“There was no question when Caris got it going they were looking for him – they love Caris LeVert,” U-M coach John Beilein said. “They were looking for him and I wasn’t taking him out until he missed one (even though) he needed a rest. Same thing with Nik. They really look for each other and understand. We preach it as much as we can. When a guy’s got it going, let’s find him.”
On Tuesday, there were two.
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