'Aggressive' Eli Brooks (21 Points) Stepped Up When U-M Needed Him Most
NCAA Tournament games are oftentimes won by seniors and veteran players making plays down the stretch when their teams need them most, and that’s exactly what happened for the Michigan Wolverines’ basketball club this evening in a thrilling 86-78 win over LSU in the second round of the Big Dance.
A pair of senior guards in Eli Brooks and Chaundee Brown were the most notable pair who stepped up, with each player scoring 21 points and the duo going a combined eight-for-eight from the free throw line.
Neither senior has been a big-time scorer this season (Brooks averages 9.2 points per game and Brown 7.4), but they were each aggressive tonight on the offensive end (a combined 20 attempts) while trying to make up for the absence of injured senior forward Isaiah Livers.
“It’s just being comfortable,” Brooks explained when asked in the postgame about his aggressive play. “My shot is feeling as good as it has all year. Coach [Juwan Howard] always says to take shots when you’re open, and that’s what I’ve been doing.
“The coaches have always been on me to stay aggressive and take my shots — it’s about confidence and instilling it into one another. We’ve been doing that and guys have been making their shots.”
Michigan needed the added offensive boost from Brooks and Brown for most of the night, with LSU operating efficiently on its own offensive end. The Tigers poured in 42 points in the first half and enjoyed several significant offensive outbursts throughout the game, rushing out to notable leads of 19-12, 24-16 and 29-21 throughout the first half.
“Going into halftime, we talked about staying the course and contesting every shot,” Brooks recalled, when asked what the conversations were like among Michigan’s teammates when the club was trailing early on.
“The percentages weigh out. Those talks were led by [fifth-year senior forward] Austin [Davis], [sophomore guard] Franz [Wagner] and [fifth-year senior guard] Mike [Smith] — they made sure everyone knew we were in this game and that this was our game to win.
“It’s a testament to the Big Ten, playing against high-level teams every single night. Doing that throughout the year prepares you for Tournament time.”
U-M finally got stops down the stretch when it needed them most to put LSU away, enjoying a 14-1 run late in the contest while stepping up the defense during the final minutes as well and limiting the Tigers to a late two-of-10 shooting stretch.
“The intensity we brought on the defensive end [was the key to the late run] — we limited them to one shot and rebounded and got out in transition,” Brooks noted. “The defense sparked our pace and our offense, and has gotten us to the point we’re at … and we’re in a pretty good spot.
“We always want an 80 percent contest rate or higher — it gives us a good chance to win a lot of games. It was about making everything tough for LSU tonight and we switched some matchups, putting [freshman center] Hunter [Dickinson] on [LSU sophomore forward Trendon] Watford.
“It was mostly about staying the course though.”
LSU held a 63-58 lead with 10:46 remaining, and from that point on was outscored by Michigan 28-15. The victory puts U-M in the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, a streak only Gonzaga can match.
The Wolverines’ next challenger will be Florida State on Sunday at 5:00 PM ET.
“That’s where you want to be and dream of playing,” Brooks exclaimed when asked how special it is to once again be in the Sweet Sixteen. “That’s what we expect at Michigan.
“You have to earn it though and it only gets more fun from here.”
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