ANN ARBOR — Charles Matthews was streaking down the Crisler Center court, ahead of everyone. He’d just made an exceptional defensive play to steal a pass, and now he was soaring for a dunk at the other end.
As soon as he landed, he extended his right arm towards Section 126, spotted his mother, and pointed. He knew where she was sitting because, as he does before every game she attends, he found her.
She slapped hands with fellow Michigan fans as the home team pulled away from Indiana early. Her son scored 12 points in the first 10 minutes of Michigan’s 74-63 win Sunday, finishing with 18 points and six rebounds in addition to playing superb defense.
Matthews acknowledged afterwards that he has some extra energy when his mom makes the trip from Chicago. “She’s a hard-working mama to provide for me and my brothers,” he said. “So I’m happy every time she is able to get down here.”
Nichole Matthews gets to Crisler as often as she can, but she has two other sons to watch. Dominique, the oldest, is a redshirt junior (he did a prep year after high school) at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Jordan is a freshman at Division III Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.
Nichole spends a lot of time on the highway to see her boys play: six-hour round-trips on I-80 to watch Jordan; about eight on I-94 for Charles.
“It’s such an exciting time watching them do something that they love to do,” she said in the Crisler Center media room, talking to MLive at the same time her son took questions from a group of reporters. She had no intention of entering the room — parents typically don’t — but Charles pulled her in.
His father was at the game as well, though Nichole said her husband admits he can’t keep up with her chaotic travel schedule. Just as her sons love basketball, she loves supporting them.
“When you’re doing something you love, you don’t get tired,” she said.
Her middle son and his Michigan teammates provided plenty of energy on Sunday. Matthews jumped passing lanes — he had three steals — knocked down 3s, and drove aggressively to the basket.
Early in the first half, a few minutes before the breakaway jam, Matthews caught a pass on the left wing, at the 3-point line, and used a lightning-quick first step to get past Romeo Langford. It was a designed play to try and pick up a second foul on the freshman star, and it worked.
Matthews took two hard dribbles left, jumped off of two feet, and threw down a two-handed dunk over Langford, drawing a foul in the process.
“He was fired up about his matchup,” Michigan coach John Beilein said about Matthews’ mentality going against Indiana’s leading scorer, a top-10 recruit. As for the play itself, Beilein was as excited as Nichole.
“That was a strong baseline drive,” Beilein said. “That’s who he can be. If there’s a block (or) charge (call) at the end, so be it. When you get to the rim, you are one of the elite athletes — maybe the quickest athlete on that court out there today — and you’ve got to (be strong.)”
As Matthews stood and talked after the game — his teammates Jordan Poole (18 points) and Brandon Johns Jr. (a much-needed eight points and eight rebounds off the bench) in different parts of the room — he was asked about how Michigan has maintained its focus and momentum during its 15-0 start.
“As soon as you start getting complacent — we’re not trying to think that way,” he said. “Just continuing to push ourselves, challenge ourselves.
“We understand a championship isn’t going to be won through 15 games. We’re trying to get better and hopefully we win it in March because that’s when it really matters.”
Nichole, the typical mom, wanted her son to speak louder. “He’s so soft-spoken when he speaks (to the media),” she said. “He is not like that at home. He’s the one we have to quiet sometimes.”
A reserved Matthews, postgame, is fine by Michigan. On Sunday, his play spoke volumes.
And that made his mama proud.