Juwan Howard and Eli Brooks met with the media after Michigan’s thrilling win over LSU.
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JUWAN HOWARD: Well, I would say this: I am so proud of our team on how they competed today. There was a lot of possessions out there where we could have held our head down because LSU made a great run, got the lead early in the first half. But our team stayed the course. Guys really competed extremely hard on the defensive end.
Tough, tough LSU team that prides themselves on getting to the basket and also making shots from the outside. How we were able to move our feet, guard without fouling, then also getting rebounds, holding them to one-shot opportunities. Yes, I know they got nine offensive rebounds, but it was very challenging by keeping the guys off the boards because they pride themselves on getting offensive rebounds versus their opponent.
But our team threw all the energy out there, laid it all out on the line. Now they deserve to get some rest tomorrow (smiling).
Q. Without Isaiah you needed people to step up. Who really shined tonight in your mind?
JUWAN HOWARD: Collectively everyone that played. You can’t fill the void of Isaiah because of what he provides on the floor with his shooting, his length, his leadership, his experience. But we knew once he went down that every guy had to step up. Our bench gave us a big lift as well as all the five guys that started the ball game. They brought a lot of energy and effort on the floor.
Q. I’m wondering how this game kind of went compared to how you saw it, imagined it playing out, other than just the win, kind of the details of the game?
JUWAN HOWARD: They did make some contested shots. Going back and watching film on the games they played versus other opponents, they make a lot of those shots. It was expected at times they’re going to make some shots where it’s going to be hand-ball contests and long threes. But we got to make sure we don’t put our heads down, fix it. That’s the mentality it’s been all season long, just staying the course when teams make runs. If you get a hand-ball contest, live with the result.
Our contest rate was really good. Looking at our defense, we held them to 39% from the field, 28% from the three-point line.
Q. How does it feel to be in the Elite 8 and what did you and your coaching staff tell your players about guarding a dynamic player like Thomas?
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, we’re really excited about getting the opportunity to advance. We’re taking one game at a time. Looking forward to our next opponent.
As far as guarding Cam Thomas, knowing he’s a very skilled ballplayer, to be as young as he is, his mentality, his demeanor, his mindset, is next level. He looks like he’s played a lot of years in college basketball. Just his disposition and his confidence level is pretty unique.
The way he scores the ball from the outside, creating his own shot off the dribble, as well as what his body control and strength getting to the basket, we just told our guys to make sure we don’t gift him any blow-bys, jump any time he shoots it. Try stay in front. It’s easy for me to say it. But it’s a challenge because he’s so good.
Q. You mentioned your bench just a moment ago. To make a deep run in a tournament, how important is it that the bench be as good as it was tonight pretty much all the way through? How important is bench play in this tournament?
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, every guy, no matter if you’re starter or bench, we have to, of course, be ready to compete. I have trust in all 15 guys that’s dressing. They know when you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.
Q. I’m wondering what it is about Eli that’s made him so ready to step into a larger offensive role since Isaiah got hurt.
JUWAN HOWARD: Eli has been like this since the last year I started coaching him. He’s a basketball guy, has a high IQ. Very underrated in a lot of ways offensively and defensively.
But within our family and our culture, we know what he provides. We’re very pleased with how he competes out there on the floor. At times he’s looked at as being undersized. But that’s why he has that chip. He can be a combo guard, at times he’s our primary ball handler, sometimes he’s off the ball. There’s times when he guards the best, whether it’s a guard, point, or two guard or a wing. Like I stated earlier, he’s very underrated.
Sometimes you look at guy’s numbers, you say he deserves to be on the defensive team. Well, watch our games, you understand why we appreciate Eli and what he brings to the table night in and night out. He’s our glue guy.
Q. I know you’re proud of your team, but how does it feel to be in the Sweet 16 for you being a coach? How does it differ from being a player? Have you talked to your team and given them advice as far as having that experience as a player coming this far or just in the tournament, period? Have you done it already? If not, will you?
JUWAN HOWARD: To answer the second part of your question, no, I have not talked to my team about what it’s like to be in a Sweet 16. I haven’t given my experience of playing in the Sweet 16.
As far as the first part of your question, our guys understand that we’re looking at it as one game at a time. At times if you listen to all the stuff that’s out there being written, being said, it becomes a distraction within. But within our bubble, our bubble, we keep it tight. We just stay locked in the moment, locked in the competition.
So one game at a time for us.
Q. The most recent status update I’ve seen on Isaiah is out indefinitely with a foot injury. I was wondering if you have any further update and/or will there be like a game time decision next week?
JUWAN HOWARD: Out indefinitely.
Q. Franz Wagner really turned it on in the last 5, 6 minutes of that second half. Can you talk about what he was able to bring towards the end of the game to help you pull out this win.
JUWAN HOWARD: Big-time players step up in big-time moments. And Franz is a big-time player.
Q. Eli mentioned it was good for the team to see Chaundee smiling. I think he’s a guy, you feed off everybody, but he might be a guy you guys feed off of a little bit more. Talk about what he was able to do after the last couple games where he wasn’t doing much offensively to turn it up in this game.
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, what he was doing does not show up in a box score. I know sometimes in basketball, we get caught up into the numbers. But as a coach, you look at film, you also look at live-game action, seeing what a guy is doing to help impact the game of winning.
Chaundee has been rock steady all season long. He understands, all his teammates do, understand that when one guy may have it going one night, or two or three guys may have it going one night offensively, but that doesn’t mean that we stop playing. We still have to compete on both ends of the floor.
Tonight Chaundee had it going. There are guys like Mike who last game had 18, today had 5. Keep in mind, I’m not the one focused on or caring about the points. My focus is how you impact winning. Mike impacted winning today on so many things that he did that does not show up in a box score.
That’s how Chaundee has been all season long for us. He’s been doing a lot of special things to help us win.
Q. You see so many great teams, high-seeded teams go by the wayside over this long weekend. Can you talk about the fight that your team had to have to make sure that your season is not over right now.
JUWAN HOWARD: The motto of today was, the words that were shared with the group: empty the tank, empty the tank (smiling). Our guys did that.
Now, unfortunately for the teams that didn’t advance, they have earned the right to be here, to play in this tournament. But all we do is look at what we can control. For us, we had LSU, very tough team, give them credit, well-coached, play extremely well, tough to guard. We knew our job was going to be tough and our hands were going to be full.
But our guys stepped up to the competition. That’s why we’re competitors.
Q. LSU started off hot and in the lead. Soon Michigan took over. Talk about the change you saw on the court when Michigan began to take the lead.
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, we started attacking the basket. We didn’t settle for jumpers. We also got some stops. Yeah, LSU made some tough shots, some that was well contested. That was easily where we could have put our head down, start to point the finger.
We talked about it leading up to this game and talked about it today, about how we have to move on to the next play and fix it, fix it next possession. Like, when we cut the lead in the first half, I think we went up one, if I’m not mistaken, they made a shot at the end before halftime. Then in the second half, they got out to a great run just like the first half.
But our guys kept grinding it, grinding it. Each possession, we got stops when we needed it. We also continued to attack the basket and not settle. But we also made some good shots that was open.
It’s important that you have to take your open shot and trust and live with the results.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time. Best of luck in the next round.
JUWAN HOWARD: Thank you. Stay safe, everyone.
Q. I want to know without Isaiah Livers in the game, playing with you all, you all were down by as many as nine, what was the conversation like that brought you all together? Who was the leader that stepped up, or leaders, who stepped up and led the conversation in the huddle or timeout?
ELI BROOKS: I mean, going into halftime, we talked about just staying the course, contesting every shot. The percentages are going to weigh out. So that was led by like Austin, Franz, myself, and Mike, just trying to stay the course, make sure that everybody knew that we were in this game, and this was our game to win.
Q. What did you make of the Big Ten’s troubles in this tournament coming into this game? What, if anything, did your coach or you and your teammates say about that?
ELI BROOKS: I mean, it’s March Madness for a reason. You’re going to get the best shot of everybody. I don’t think the Big Ten — I still think the Big Ten is a really good conference. We just had some losses.
But coaches never really brought it up. They focused on ourselves and the game that was at hand. That was never really brought up.
It was mentioned by a couple players, but it’s March Madness for a reason, so…
Q. What can you say about Chaundee’s performance tonight, just helping you in the backcourt, obviously huge with the scoring he had?
ELI BROOKS: I mean, you know what you’re going to get with Chaundee every single day. He brings a lot of energy. It was good to see him make some shots because that smile goes a long way for the team. His energy, his presence, it helps the team. It brings the defense to a higher level.
Q. It seems like you’ve been especially aggressive hunting for your shot over the last few games. How much of a focus has that been for you, especially with Isaiah out?
ELI BROOKS: I mean, it’s just been comfortable. My shot is feeling as good as it has all year. Coaches always say next shot mentality, take the shots when you’re open. That’s what I’ve been doing, so…
Q. More broadly on the offensive performance, four starters in double figures. It felt at different times you had a different guy hot somewhere else on the floor. How equipped do you think this team is from an offensive perspective basically to be able to share the load like that, even if maybe a guy is injured or there’s an off night, even with Isaiah out, this team is hard to deal with?
ELI BROOKS: Yeah, I’ve said it in the beginning of the year, this is the deepest team I’ve ever been a part of. We have a lot of shooters and we have a post presence like Hunter and Austin. They draw a lot of attention. You get a lot of open shots.
Q. What was the biggest difference in that run that you had in the second half? What was different in that part of the game than any other part of the game that led that situation to happen?
ELI BROOKS: I think just the intensity that we brought on the defensive end. We limited them to one shot. We made everything hard in those 4 minutes and rebounded the ball, got out, ran in transition.
I think the defense really sparked it, sparked our pace and sparked our offense.
Q. This game was a game of runs it seemed like. How were you able to kind of withstand LSU scoring multiple points in a row and kind of fight your way back into the game?
ELI BROOKS: I mean, I think it’s just a testament to the Big Ten honestly. You play against high-level teams every single night. Having that Big Ten season really prepares you for tournament time.
Q. You mentioned the halftime mentality about continuing to contest shots and things like that. Early in the second half they went on a little run and continued to hit some tough shots. How do you keep that mentality at any point? Do you wonder if they’re ever going to be missing some of these shots?
ELI BROOKS: I mean, it got us to the point we’re at. We’re in a pretty good spot. I think just remembering what got us here. We always say 80% or higher, we have a good chance of winning a lot of games.
Q. It seems like you got some key stops at key moments. What were some of the adjustments you made to slow them down in the second half especially?
ELI BROOKS: I mean, to be honest, it was just about wearing on them, making everything tough. I mean, we switched some matchups, put Hunter on Watford. But it was mostly just staying the course.
Q. Talk about what it means to you to have been a part of four Sweet 16 teams? You and Gonzaga are the only teams that have been able to have four straight Sweet 16s.
ELI BROOKS: It’s crazy to think about. But that’s where you want to be, that’s where you dream of playing. That’s what we expect at Michigan. But you have to earn it. It only gets more fun from here, so…
Q. You’ve had to get some big rebounds at the end, play the points some, hit a lot of big shots particularly in the first half. The game seems like it’s slow for you. What enables you to stay focused like that and have the game at a slow pace?
ELI BROOKS: I think just all the amount of reps we get in practice and being a senior, you see a lot of things through your time in college. Just being able to be on the court and have those experiences when I was younger I think really helped me out a lot.
Q. Last time you were in the tournament you were seen as somebody who contributed more on the defensive side of the ball. This year you’ve been an integral part on the offensive side of the ball. Can you talk about your confidence on the offensive side this year.
ELI BROOKS: Yeah, just the shot is feeling good. Just continuing to stay aggressive. The coaches have always been on me about being aggressive, taking my shots. He’s on everybody because we believe everybody’s really talented on the team. It’s just about confidence and instilling confidence into each other.
We’ve been doing that, and people have been making shots.
Q. What does it mean moving on to the Sweet 16? What was it like playing against LSU? Seemed like they were giving you a big battle tonight.
ELI BROOKS: Yeah, making it to the Sweet 16, like I said, you always dream of getting there as a young kid. LSU is a really good team. They have really good players. They make shots. They’re shot makers. They’re a good team.
Q. You have been in town for a week, week and a half now. How have you passed the time with your teammates and kind of kept in check in the bubble environment? What are you doing to stay fresh? Is it tough to stay locked in in this controlled environment?
ELI BROOKS: To be honest, being in this environment, for myself, I can only speak for myself, but it makes me lock in even more because you realize that you’re not home, you don’t want to go back home, and for good reasons.
But to pass time, people have been playing video games. We’ve been playing a lot of cards together. That’s been fun.
Q. There was talk from experts and media about how you guys could be a No. 1 seed that could be in trouble considering Isaiah is injured. What do you think you maybe showed what you guys are capable of doing without Isaiah today?
ELI BROOKS: I think we showed what we thought in the room that we have. Next man up, that’s our mentality. We knew we had enough in the locker room to get to the Sweet 16. Just keep buying in. People are going to step up, so…