- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2020

Garrison Mathews sprinted to the corner and as soon as he got there, his defender was in his face, “hugging” him to prevent the ball from being thrown the Wizards’ rookie’s way.

After just one breakout game, Mathews was officially on the scouting report.

“It’s something I expected,” Mathews said. “When you’re a shooter, they’re not going to give you open shots.”

In the span of a few days, Mathews, an undrafted rookie out of Lipscomb, went from an unheard-of two-way player to a sharp-shooter catching the attention of opposing teams. On Monday in the Wizards’ shocking 123-105 win over the Miami Heat, the 23-year-old scored a career-high 28 points — knocking down six of his nine shot attempts.

By Wednesday, the Orlando Magic wouldn’t make the same mistake — sticking close to Mathews whenever he was on the court. The adjustment is one Matthews will have to get used to.

After all, as a two-way player, Mathews has a limited chance to make an impression.

Floating between the G-League and the NBA, Mathews can spend no more than 45 days with the Wizards before the team has to make a decision about his contract: Either convert it or return to the G League.

“I knew I was going to get an opportunity at some point,” Mathews said. “I mean really, the way I play, I try to play hard, I try to play fast. … That’s really what’s going to keep me on the floor.”

Mathews is in this position, in part, because of how injuries have decimated the Wizards this season. The team has six players sidelined, including forwards C.J. Miles and Rui Hachimura. That opened the door for Mathews.

Coach Scott Brooks, though, said the forward’s minutes could decrease moving forward. Against the Magic, he logged 17 minutes after playing a career-high 29 against the Heat. Part of the difference was because star Bradley Beal returned from a leg injury.

But Brooks said Mathews was earning his playing time.

In his limited appearances, Mathews has shown an ability to get fouled while shooting a 3-pointer — something he also did against the Magic. He does so by jumping forward when he shoots, often making contact with the nearby defender.

“That was a special game (against the Heat),” Brooks said. “Not too many guys with a two-way contract could come in and get 28 and get nine free throws off of three, 3s. … That’s hard to do.

“The star players rarely ever get that.”

Mathews said he doesn’t feel any additional pressure knowing his contract limits the number of days he can be on an NBA court. After all, for most of his life, he never thought the NBA was a realistic possibility — only realizing in 2018 did the thought start to cross his mind, he said.

That year, Lipscomb made the NIT, giving Mathews exposure to NBA scouts. The following season, the Bison made the NCAA Tournament for the first time — further drawing eyeballs to his game.

After going undrafted, Mathews signed to a two-way contract with the Wizards in June. On Oct. 23, making his career debut, he became the first player to play in the NBA from Lipscomb.

“I try not to label myself just as a shooter,” he said. “I label myself as a hustle guy, as well. I know a lot of teams like that.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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