After a postgame scuffle in Madison on Sunday following a loss to Wisconsin, the Michigan Wolverines found themselves without a head coach and about to face five projected tournament teams while being firmly on the bubble themselves. Enter Phil Martelli.
“It’s great, you know coach Phil, he always has his quotes to motivate us,” DeVante’ Jones said about playing under Martelli. “It was amazing, we learn from him, he’s learning from us, it was a great experience.”
Michigan was able to come away with a win in Martelli’s interim coaching debut, defeating the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 71-62.
Despite a new leader at the helm, things didn’t change much for the Wolverines.
“I don’t really think it was much different,” Jones said. “We were motivated, we knew we had to get this W. It was a very crucial game for us that we needed to win. I don’t think it was much of us playing any different, we just played with a chip on our shoulder for sure though.”
That chip on the shoulder was for Juwan Howard.
“That was the goal for us,” Jones said about getting the win for Howard. “I know a lot of people are saying a lot of different things on social media, but coach Howard sent us a motivating text before the game, and I think it fueled all of us, and the main goal was to win for him.”
With Howard out, Martelli led the charge tonight, but he gave all the credit to those around him.
“I am here to tell you: Saddi Washington and Howard Eisley just coached their backsides off,” Martelli said unprompted to open his postgame presser. “I knew when I spoke to many of you yesterday that I was confident I could manage a game. Those two guys — just absolutely extraordinary. To the Big Ten Network, and I’ll say the same to you: what you’re seeing there are two future head coaches. America needs to know that. When I spoke to Juwan Howard last night he said ‘I feel fine. I have the best coaching staff in America.’ That was Saddi Washington and Howard Eisley, and then those young guys.”
Many were in doubt about this game and the rest of Michigan’s games down the stretch because of the loss of the head coach. Tonight may have relieved some of that doubt.
“Warde Manuel did not ask me to try to coach the team,” Martelli said. “He said do it. So I did it. I don’t mean that singularly. We did it, the players did it. No one said try, they asked us to do it.”