Sports

Kobe Bufkin’s season highs in rebounds and assists fuel Michigan


EVANSTON — Going into halftime with a one point lead, there wasn’t a lot to be impressed with on the stat sheet for the Michigan men’s basketball team. But among mediocracy, one statistic stood out: 

A double digit figure next to ‘rebounds’ under sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin’s name. 

As a consistent starter and ball handler, there’s no question about Bufkin’s crucial role for the Wolverines — but he isn’t necessarily known for his rebounding. Prior to this game, his season-high number of boards stood at seven. But in the first half against Northwestern alone, he collected 10. 

And as Michigan struggled to get its shots to fall in the first 20 minutes, that made all the difference. Bufkin closed the night with not only a season high of 12 rebounds, but he also added another season high in assists with eight alongside 15 points. 

“It’s no surprise when he’s performing the way he performed today,” graduate guard Joey Baker said. “I think he had 10 rebounds at halftime, which is just playing with energy. (It’s) just competing and the ball was finding him. So he made a lot of big plays for us.” 

Sometimes shots just don’t fall. And in the first half, that was evident as the Wolverines shot a meager 9-for-31 from the field. But while shooting can fluctuate, an aggressive mindset has the potential to remain steady. 

Bufkin demonstrated exactly that. 

As soon as a shot left a Michigan player’s hands, Bufkin’s body took flight. He crowded the lanes for the Wildcats and flaunted his aggressive approach by always scrapping for a board. 

That may not have directly translated into success in the first half, but its impact carried on into the second en route to a 68-51 win.

“(Bufkin) kind of sparked us as well,” junior forward Terrance Williams II said. “Seeing that he had double-digit boards at halftime, … It just inspired everyone to just keep rebounding down, keep boxing out.” 

That inspiration was evident in the second half, as the Wolverines built on the Bufkin-led aggressive mindset and utilized that to synthesize success. After shooting a measly 29% from the field in the first half, that percentage skyrocketed to 55.6% in the second.

That success was especially apparent from Bufkin. While his shots didn’t fall in the first half — scoring just five points on 2-for-6 shooting — they did in the final 20 minutes of play. Bufkin went 4-for-5 in the second half. 

Even when his shots began to fall though, he didn’t limit himself to just scoring. Maintaining his aggressive disposition, he found his teammates all over the court, proving himself to be a threat to rebound, score and pass. 

With just over three minutes left of play, Bufkin stood at the 3-point line with the ball. At this point in the game, his potent offense had created a dilemma for defenders. He had proven his ability to score from behind the arc, by driving and by connecting with others on dimes. This time, he chose the latter, dishing the ball out to Williams at the elbow for a mid-range jumper. With the assist, he surpassed his previous season-high of seven. 

Against Northwestern, Bufkin found success in nearly every element of his game. While he’s already demonstrated his high skill level this season, on Thursday he showed how doing so pays dividends to the success of his team as a whole.

“(Bufkin) has a big task but he’s always stepped up to the plate and welcomed the challenge,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “Just tonight, just seeing his overall balance of 15 points, 12 rebounds — three of them being off the offensive glass — and then also having eight assists with one turnover, that’s a big, big thing. We needed him, and he stepped up.” 

Even while posting season highs and a strong field performance in the second half, Bufkin’s impact went beyond that. He inspired his teammates with gritty play throughout the entire game. He saved them when things were bad. And he fueled them when the shots started to fall.  

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