The ride is not over yet for Michigan in March Madness.
The No. 1-seeded Wolverines were able to outlast No. 8-seed LSU on Monday night in an 86-78 victory to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. This is the fourth-straight NCAA Tournament where the Wolverines have made it out of the first weekend and the sixth time in the last eight years they have been able to accomplish this feat.
The Wolverines were led by a performance that will be remembered by Eli Brooks for a long time. The senior guard finished with 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting, five of which came from three-point range. Chaundee Brown matched Brooks with 21 points of his own off the bench, while Franz Wagner had 15 points after coming on late.
LSU brought the No. 5 offense in the country into this game and flexed it often throughout the contest. Freshman star Cam Thomas led all scorers with 30 points, while point guard Javonte Smart had 27 of his own. Trendon Watford scored 11 points. The rest of the Tigers combined to score only 10.
The Tigers came out and established the pace of this game early, leading by as many as nine points in the first half. The one thing Michigan did not want to do was get into a shootout with this team but found itself reeling a bit early on. A lot of LSU’s looks on the offensive end of the floor were contested and they were able to make the most of those opportunities. Despite this, Michigan was able to rally thanks to Brooks and Brown’s play to take a 43-42 lead into the locker room.
The Wolverines had all of the momentum going into the locker room but found themselves starting another half in a sluggish manner as LSU would make a 9-2 run to open the final 20 minutes of play. Michigan would answer with a run of its own and would never trail in the final 10 minutes of the half, leading by as many as 10 points before closing out the victory.
Brooks is the hero of the day in one of his best, most timely performances in a Michigan uniform. LSU had a chance to stick it to the Wolverines in the early part of this game, but Brooks seemingly had an answer for everything and it helped spark the run that Michigan would eventually go on. Brown’s performance was also massive. This was a poor draw for Mike Smith in that LSU had the pieces to give him fits. Brown being able to match the size, athleticism and shot-making of the Tigers was what turned the tide for the Wolverines.
Wagner draws a lot of criticism for disappearing offensively at times, but he was able to turn it on when it mattered the most late in this game. LSU matched up favorably against him from a talent and athleticism standpoint, but Wagner seemed to take over as the Tigers got fatigued late in the second half. Nine of his 15 points came in the final 4:27 of the game and his defensive prowess was on display throughout the evening. The player we saw down the stretch is the one that NBA scouts have been salivating over.
This was always going to be an incredibly difficult test, even if Isaiah Livers could have miraculously been on the floor. A tough test awaits in the Sweet Sixteen against (either Colorado or Florida State), but the reason this team still has a chance to make a run in the East is because they play hard and together. Now, it feels like they are starting to gain confidence and chemistry playing one piece down.
The season could end at any moment, so it is nice to have a few days to soak this one in before the Sweet Sixteen game. Michigan will be spending at least five or so more days in Indianapolis, which has never been so welcomed.