U-M Players Discuss Howard's Ejection — 'He Has Our Back & We Have His'
There were two massive storylines surrounding the Michigan Wolverines’ 79-66 basketball win over Maryland today in the Big Ten Tournament’s quarterfinals — fifth-year senior point guard Mike Smith’s 18 points and 15 assists, and head coach Juwan Howard’s ejection midway through the second half.
Howard’s ejection came after a shouting match broke out with Maryland head man Mark Turgeon and the Terrapins’ bench, with assistant Phil Martelli coaching the team the rest of the afternoon following the dismissal.
After finding themselves in a 36-24 deficit late in the first half, the Wolverines turned up the heat and ended the game on a 55-30 run. This was thanks in large part to Smith’s career afternoon, with the 5-11 guard nailing two three-pointers, making all four of his free throws attempts and pulling down five rebounds to boot.
“I wanted to take it all in,” he exclaimed after the win, never having played in the postseason before during his four years at Columbia. “I walked into the stadium and it was just a blessing to play here in the Colts’ arena at Lucas Oil Stadium, and have fans here.
“Shout out to the fans who supported Michigan today. I’ve never had the opportunity to play in the postseason and now we have a chance to win the Big Ten Tournament, and I really want to do that.”
“It’s all about the positions Mike puts himself in, because it makes the game a lot easier for himself and for others,” sophomore guard Franz Wagner (who was tied with senior guard Eli Brooks as the club’s second leading scorer with 16 points) said of Smith.
“Mike is so quick and fast, and dribbles so low. Nobody can get to the ball when it’s that low. He sees the whole floor when he brings it up the court. Mike has a high IQ and works hard with Coach [Howard] Eisley to make the right reads out there.
“He’s learned to exploit other teams’ mistakes. You can’t just play him one-on-one, because that’s when his ability to find others come into play. Mike didn’t do anything different today than other games — he just had the ball and made the right play, and created space for other people.
“The most important part is that we execute our plays the right way, and that we cut hard and with a purpose — that’s when our talent shines through.”
Smith has led the Big Ten in assists per game throughout the second half of the regular season (was averaging 5.0 per game entering the day), and has an assist-first mentality this season after averaging 22.8 points per game last year as a redshirt junior at Columbia.
The team-first mindset he has transitioned into seamlessly in Ann Arbor has been one of the many reasons for Michigan’s immense success this year.
“Being around my family all the time and being competitive on my own [is where it comes from],” he explained. “I always want to win in everything I do. I felt like the team needed me to do a lot more today.
“They needed me to assist and score, and I did a good job of that. We have more to do though with games tomorrow and Sunday, but we’ll enjoy this one and then we have to get locked in.”
As for the scuffle between Howard and Turgeon, Smith, Wagner and senior guard Chaundee Brown were all asked for their takes on it afterward, with the trio unsurprisingly supporting their head coach.
“Coach is a competitive guy and it got competitive,” Smith opined, not saying much about the whole ordeal. “We knew we had to have his back.”
Wagner only added that he “didn’t know what was said,” with most of the shouting match between Howard and Turgeon taking place while the Michigan players were on the bench and those who were on the court in the process of returning to the bench during a timeout.
Howard’s ejection fired up his squad, with the Wolverines going on an 8-0 run after Maryland had been in the midst of a a quick 6-0 run of its own.
“We wanted to do it for him,” Brown noted, explaining how Michigan closed the game out from that point on. “He has our back and we have his. We bonded as a team — even the bench guys, we were all in it together.
“I don’t know what was said because we were all so locked into the game. We just knew we had to have our coach’s back.”
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