Simpson refuses to let ‘outside noise’ derail focus


James Hawkins - The Detroit News



Michigan guard Xavier Simpson (3) drives on Ohio State forward Kyle Young (25) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Michigan guard Xavier Simpson (3) drives on Ohio State forward Kyle Young (25) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


ANN ARBOR — It was another challenging week for Xavier Simpson.

Details emerged that the senior guard struck a utility pole while driving a vehicle that was registered to athletic director Warde Manuel’s wife, Chrislan, at around 3 a.m. on Jan. 26 and lied to police about it.

The incident led to Simpson receiving a one-game suspension for violating the team’s curfew and a civil infraction for driving too fast for road conditions.

Simpson didn’t let the recent headlines weigh him down and serve as a distraction in Saturday’s 77-68 win over No. 16 Michigan State at Crisler Center.

“I didn’t want to be selfish and let (the off-court issues) affect me because at the end of the day, my teammates wanted this win,” Simpson said. “I can’t let that come inside the locker room or anything of that matter because that would’ve been selfish of me. I wanted to lock in on this game, lock in on practice and do it for my teammates.”

Simpson finished with a team-high 16 points on 13 shots, dished out eight assists and helped the Wolverines (14-9, 5-7 Big Ten) outscore the Spartans by 15 points in the 31 minutes he was on the court.

Simpson also had a hand in all 11 of Michigan’s made 3-pointers, primarily via assists. He made Michigan State pay for sagging off him and going under screens by finishing 4-for-7 from beyond the arc.

It marked just the third time in 138 career games that Simpson, a 30.4-percent 3-point shooter, made at least four 3s in a game. That wasn’t lost on Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who grumbled about it several times during his postgame presser.

But given everything that had gone on this week — including Simpson’s late flagrant-1 foul in Tuesday’s loss to Ohio State — Michigan coach Juwan Howard said he wasn’t surprised Simpson was able to play at a high level.

Senior center Jon Teske also credited Simpson for how he handled everything on and off the court, and gave his full attention to the team the past few days.

“It didn’t bother him,” Teske said. “That’s outside noise. Yeah, we lost earlier in the week and everything is kind of going on with him, but we all knew he was locked in for this game because he knew this was a big game for us. He’s a leader of this team and he had to lead us. That’s what he did.”

And it didn’t seem to bother the team, either. When junior forward Isaiah Livers was asked if the all off-the-court talk affected Simpson this week, Livers said he “forgot that even happened.”

“See what I mean, that’s how focused we are as a team,” Livers said. “I honestly didn’t even say that much to him about it. I just knew he was a leader, knew he was taking care of it. All I saw was positivity from him, chin up, ready to take on the next challenge.”

Simpson insisted the traffic incident wasn’t on his mind — he noted playing basketball clears his head — and pushed the self-inflicted chatter to the side.

As a result, he played a key role in snapping a four-game slide to Michigan State and helped Michigan bounce back from a tough loss, which “feels good no matter what you’re going through.”

“As humans, we’ve got to be able to be selfless,” Simpson said. “My teammates work hard. They were not involved in any of it, so that would’ve been selfish of me to have that on my mind during practice or during outside-the-court activities when we were having team bonding.

“To have that on my mind, I wouldn’t be able to play to my best ability. I had to come out here and play hard for my teammates and the fans that came out to watch us.”

Simpson added that while there is going to be “a lot of controversy and assumptions,” he felt he owed it to everyone on the team to leave what happened two weekends ago behind him.

When asked if he would like to clear up any misconceptions regarding the police report and car wreck, Simpson reiterated he was looking to move past it — just like last week when he addressed his one-game suspension after the Rutgers game.

“We all make mistakes,” Simpson said. “I made a mistake. I owned up to it, apologized to my teammates, my family, my friends and also the fans.

“I’m just glad that I’m safe and no one else was involved. At the end of the day, I wanted to come out here and play hard for my teammates because a situation like that, things could’ve got worse. I’m just blessed to be here, so thank God for that.”

Michigan guard Xavier Simpson (3) drives on Ohio State forward Kyle Young (25) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2020/02/web1_124384164-98650d24457948f9b0b093f456550095.jpgMichigan guard Xavier Simpson (3) drives on Ohio State forward Kyle Young (25) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

James Hawkins

The Detroit News

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