ANN ARBOR—Tuesday nights’ home contest versus Penn State began much like Thursdays’ road win at Nebraska for the Michigan Wolverines -- with freshman point guard Derrick Walton scoring the basketball.
Walton paced Michigan’s attack in the early going in a win over Penn State, scoring 5-points in the first 24 seconds of the game, adding on another three-pointer moments later to give the Wolverines an early 8-0 advantage, putting tremendous pressure on the Nittany Lion defense.
“Well, I can say that’s a strong suit of mine,” Walton said afterward. “I have confidence in my jump shot as well but I’m also confident going to the basket.”
Walton finished the night with 16-points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field including a 2-for-5 mark from three-point land.
Perhaps the most intriguing development in Walton’s game of late is his handling of pressure situations and confidence to take the shot when his number is called. On two occasions against Penn State, shot clock winding down, Walton attacked the rim to earn two free throws, later knocking down a step-back two from the top of the key.
“I think that everybody plays us differently but no he’s jet quick,” Beilein said. “And we want him to get there (to the rim). I thought when they got it back down to two he got a huge basket for us in a shot clock situation so, he’s shooting it well.
“I thought one of his turnovers, he made two threes and then he drove it after he missed a three and I said, ‘you just made two out of three, shoot it again,’ and he drove it and turned it over. But, he can get in there, now finding people is what he’s getting better and better at.”
Walton tallied three assists to go with three turnovers, Tuesday.
The light, which has been on, appears to be getting brighter and brighter at the right time for Walton, helping Michigan improve to 4-0 to start Big Ten conference play and key in the Wolverines’ current six game win streak.
“He’s a really young 18 years old now but he’s just getting better all the time and playing with these guys with one another, it’s not like he’s got; you know Trey Burke had Stu Douglass, a senior next to him,” Beilein said.
“He’s got Caris who is really getting minutes for the first time so it’s just there’s these slow steps forward that he’s making as far as running our offense and really understanding all the stuff that we do. It can be confusing at times.
“We had a quarterback club today with him and I can see it slowing down, I can see him getting better at it.”
Beneficiaries of Walton’s development include sophomores Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas, both of whom have seen a spike in the scoring and playmaking columns of late.
“When they think he’s going to drive, shoot, come off the ball screen, that just gets guys like myself and Nik more open,” Robinson III said afterward. “I think he’s doing a great job of that and I think he did a great job of finding his own shot tonight.
“He had a couple one on one possessions at the end and like I said we’re in the gym working on that and just happy for him to be able to do that and knock down shots.”
The next step for Walton could be in the form of more perimeter shots, consistently one of Michigan’s best shooters in practice, now beginning to show it in games.
“We always have four guys that can shoot the ball out there on the court, I don’t think we put a lineup out that doesn’t have four guys that can shoot it -- really shoot it,” Beilein said. “And Derrick is a really good shooter so I think we’ve got to continue to look for opportunities for him to find his own shot but also see others.
“But there’s a lot going on inside that freshman’s brain and he’s trying to pick his spots.”