The journey to Michigan is not yet over in March Madness.
# 1 Wolverines were able to survive # 8 LSU Monday night in an 86-78 win to qualify for the Sweet Sixteen. This is the fourth consecutive NCAA tournament where the Wolverines have succeeded on the first weekend and the sixth time in the past eight years they have been able to accomplish that feat.
The Wolverines were led by a performance Eli Brooks will long remember. The senior goalie finished with 21 points on 7 of 11 shots, including five on three points. Chaundee Brown tied Brooks with 21 points off the bench, while Franz Wagner scored 15 points after coming in late.
LSU introduced the nation’s No.5 offense in this game and weakened it often throughout the contest. Freshman star Cam Thomas led all scorers with 30 points, while point guard Javonte Smart had 27. Trendon Watford scored 11 points. The rest of the Tigers combined to score just 10.
The Tigers came out and set the pace for this game early, leading up to nine points in the first half. The only thing Michigan didn’t want to do was get into a shootout with this team, but found themselves a little shaky at first. A lot of LSU’s looks on the attacking side of the pitch were contested and they were able to make the most of those opportunities. Despite that, Michigan was able to rally thanks to Brooks and Brown’s play to take a 43-42 lead in the locker room.
The Wolverines had all the momentum to get into the locker room, but found themselves starting another half slow as LSU would go 9-2 to open the final 20 minutes of play. Michigan would respond with a race on its own and would never lag in the final 10 minutes of halftime, leading up to 10 points before wrapping up the win.
Brooks is the hero of the day in one of his best performances in a Michigan uniform. LSU was fortunate enough to stick with the Wolverines early in this game, but Brooks apparently had an answer for everything and that helped spark the race Michigan would eventually pursue. Brown’s performance was massive as well. It was a bad draw for Mike Smith as long as LSU had the parts to give him adjustments. Brown being able to match the Tigers’ size, athleticism and shotgun is what turned the tide for the Wolverines.
Wagner draws a lot of criticism for sometimes disappearing offensively, but he was able to activate it when it mattered most later in that game. LSU fought well against him from a talent and athletic standpoint, but Wagner appeared to take over as the Tigers got tired late in the second half. Nine of his 15 points were scored in the game’s 4:27 final and his defensive prowess was on display throughout the night. The player we saw in the wake is the one NBA scouts have salivated over.
It was always going to be an incredibly difficult test, even though Isaiah Livers could have miraculously been on the floor. A tough test awaits you in the Sweet Sixteen against (either Colorado or Florida State), but the reason this team still has a chance to make a race in the East is because they play hard and together. Now it feels like they’re starting to gain confidence and chemistry as they play a piece.
The season could end at any time, so it’s nice to have a few days to soak up the season before the Sweet Sixteen game. Michigan will spend at least five more days in Indianapolis, which has never been so well received.