Free Press sports writers Nick Baumgardner, Orion Sang and Shawn Windsor break down Michigan basketball’s win over North Carolina on Nov. 28, 2018.
Nick Baumgardner and Shawn Windsor and Orion Sang, Detroit Free Press
Ignas Brazdeikis is familiar with Nassir Little.
In the summer of 2017, the two were teammates during the NBPA Top 100 camp, a showcase for top high school players.
They were friendly but didn’t stay connected after parting ways. Little, a 6-foot-6 forward from Orange Park, Fla., finished his career ranked as the No. 3 overall prospect in the class of 2018. Brazdeikis, the 6-7 forward from Ontario, was No. 40.
Their paths crossed again Wednesday night, when Brazdeikis and No. 7 Michigan basketball faced Little and No. 11 North Carolina.
More from Windsor: Michigan looks like title contender after routing North Carolina
And in front of nearly two dozen NBA scouts, Brazdeikis led all players with 24 points on 9 of 13 shooting in over 32 minutes, sparking U-M to an 84-67 victory.
Little, meanwhile, scored four points on 1 of 5 shooting in just 17 minutes and finished with a game-low plus-minus of -22.
“It was a big matchup for me,” Brazdeikis said. “I’ve played him in high school before, and I took that matchup as a personal one for me. I just wanted to be the best player on the court and play the best game I could play and the entire team just played amazing.”
It was yet another scintillating performance by Brazdeikis, who has started his college career with a string of them. The biggest games of the year have brought out the best in him.
Against Villanova, he scored 18 points while helping hold Wildcats forward Eric Paschall to just 10 points.
Brazdeikis saw Wednesday’s game as a similar opportunity.
“This one was big, and Villanova was really big for me, too,” Brazdeikis said. “Every single game is equal importance to me, but I feel like this one meant a little bit more.”
Brazdeikis had the biggest hand in U-M’s turnaround from an early deficit.
He picked up his first foul early in the first half and left the game immediately after.
When he checked back in, his team was trailing, 21-13, and in need of a spark.
“On the bench, I saw we were getting down,” Brazdeikis said. “I was like, ‘Damn, I need to do whatever I can.’ I don’t care, I’ll take my leg off if I have to. I don’t care, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win the game.”
On his first possession back, Brazdeikis got the ball on the wing with the shot clock winding down. He bulled his way inside, drawing a foul while scoring before hitting the free throw.
The next possession, he drained a 3.
John Beilein recaps Michigan’s convincing 84-67 win over North Carolina on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018 at Crisler Center.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
It was all part of a 17-2 run that erased North Carolina’s lead and gave Michigan a five-point advantage.
“We just started to hit shots, we started to make plays,” Brazdeikis said. “I feel like early on we were kind of missing shots we usually make or missing free throws, so I feel like when I got back in, I made a couple plays, and then everything just started rolling from there.”
Brazdeikis has now put together three consecutive 20-plus point games. He’s Michigan’s leading scorer at 16.9 points per game. He has also made a bigger-than-anticipated impact on defense; against North Carolina, he guarded multiple players, including forward Luke Maye, wing Cameron Johnson and Little.
People are starting to take notice, if they hadn’t already. Sports Illustrated’s mock draft on Nov. 20 had Brazdeikis going at No. 30.
His star is rising. Just the way he imagined it.
“I imagine this every single day, even in high school,” Brazdeikis said. “I don’t stop thinking about this. I knew this game was coming up, it’s on my mind 24/7. I envision everything that happened tonight, and I’m always confident. So this is what it’s supposed to be.”
Contact Orion Sang: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang.