As hundreds of jubilant fans spilled onto the Crisler Center court, months of anguish and frustration having vanished, Eli Brooks took a step back.
The fifth-year senior looked on, watching from afar. He peeled himself away from the fray and, ever even-keeled, made his way towards Michigan’s locker room.
“I knew we were a really good team,” Brooks maintained after the game, a brilliant 24-point victory over third-ranked Purdue. “We just had to be clicking all at once. I think we’re finally at that point.”
It’s worth placing an emphasis on that “finally.” Michigan has spent the majority of the season soul-searching, desperate for an identity, living in the shadows of its lofty preseason ranking and ballyhooed expectations. The Wolverines talked openly about a Final Four; they had legitimate National Championship aspirations.
And then the season began.
Before November ended, they had plunged into the depths of the unranked. Pieces didn’t fit. Blowout losses accumulated. The grand plan had shattered.
“The honest truth is some guys took a little bit more time to get accustomed to college basketball,” Hunter Dickinson said after a 22-point, 9-rebound maestro performance, one in which he battled through lower body discomfort. “It’s hard. It’s not easy. … For us, it was just a matter of time until the pieces started clicking.”
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