The Michigan Wolverines advanced to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals after a 79-66 victory over the Maryland Terrapins on Friday afternoon. Michigan won all three matchups between the two teams this season.
The Wolverines were led by an enormous effort from point guard Mike Smith, who had 18 points, 15 assists, five rebounds and no turnovers on the afternoon. Eli Brooks returned to the starting lineup after an injury scare this week and added 16 points, while Franz Wagner matched him with 16 of his own.
The elephant in the room coming out of the game was Juwan Howard’s ejection at the 10:44 mark of the second half. Associate head coach Phil Martelli was pressed into action and was a steady presence for the team down the stretch.
Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said that all he did was tell Howard not to talk to him and raised concerns about something he had called the Big Ten office on in the two prior games. Howard told the media that Turgeon yelled at the refs for him being outside of the coaching box. When Howard reacted to that, Turgeon stepped toward him and said not to talk to him.
“When a grown man charges you, it’s time to defend yourself,” Howard said. He would also apologize to his team for losing his cool and said he has to be better in that situation.
Michigan came into this game as a bit of an unknown with the Brooks injury and losing two of the last three games of the season. Factor in all of that with having to adjust to the sightlines of shooting in a stadium and it created early struggles. Maryland jumped out to a 12-point lead in the first half and was hot from the three-point line while Michigan could not hit the broad side of a barn. The Wolverines managed to get hot late in the first half thanks to an 8-of-8 shooting performance from the bench and took a 40-38 lead into the locker room.
Michigan began to extend its lead in the second half, but Maryland would stick around and keep the deficit into a relatively manageable spot. The Wolverines went up 11 points with just under four minutes to go and never looked back, leading by as many as 15 before the final buzzer.
The biggest development to come out of this game is the play of Smith, who had his best performance as a Wolverine. He was plus-23 on the day and played an efficient and aggressive game. Michigan getting that type of production in March from its point guard is going to make them an extremely difficult team to beat.
The bench saved the day for the Wolverines in the first half when much of the starting lineup had a difficult time getting it going. Chaundee Brown had 10 points. Brandon Johns played one of his best games of the season and finished with seven points. Austin Davis had a few timely baskets and finished with six points and eight rebounds. Maryland had a chance to run away with this game, but the Wolverine reserves did not let it happen. It was a pleasant surprise and much-needed spark.
Brooks’ play and his workload also stands out. He was sporting a brace on his left ankle, but was able to start and played 36 minutes on Friday. He might be a bit limited, but his presence out there was notable and needed.
Isaiah Livers was a non-factor on Friday and the stat sheet backs that up. He did not score and played only 15 minutes in the game as Michigan elected to go with who was hot. Livers has not scored in the double digits since the Indiana game and his offensive output bottomed out against Maryland. One would assume that water finds its level, but these are all elimination games now. He spoke last week about wanting to hang two more banners and has to be a bigger factor.
Michigan will play either Ohio State or Purdue on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET. That game will be broadcast via CBS.