The Michigan Wolverines moved on to the program’s fourth-straight Sweet Sixteen after a 86-78 win over LSU on Monday night in Indianapolis. Head coach Juwan Howard spoke to the media after the game to review the performance and react to the victory that took place.
Transcriptions are courtesy of the NCAA and ASAP Sports:
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, I would say this: I am so proud of our team on how they competed today. There was a lot of possessions out there where we could have held our head down because LSU made a great run, got the lead early in the first half. But our team stayed the course. Guys really competed extremely hard on the defensive end.
Tough, tough LSU team that prides themselves on getting to the basket and also making shots from the outside. How we were able to move our feet, guard without fouling, then also getting rebounds, holding them to one-shot opportunities. Yes, I know they got nine offensive rebounds, but it was very challenging by keeping the guys off the boards because they pride themselves on getting offensive rebounds versus their opponent.
But our team threw all the energy out there, laid it all out on the line. Now they deserve to get some rest tomorrow (smiling).
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Without Isaiah you needed people to step up. Who really shined tonight in your mind?
JUWAN HOWARD: Collectively everyone that played. You can’t fill the void of Isaiah because of what he provides on the floor with his shooting, his length, his leadership, his experience. But we knew once he went down that every guy had to step up. Our bench gave us a big lift as well as all the five guys that started the ball game. They brought a lot of energy and effort on the floor.
Q. I’m wondering how this game kind of went compared to how you saw it, imagined it playing out, other than just the win, kind of the details of the game?
JUWAN HOWARD: They did make some contested shots. Going back and watching film on the games they played versus other opponents, they make a lot of those shots. It was expected at times they’re going to make some shots where it’s going to be hand-ball contests and long threes. But we got to make sure we don’t put our heads down, fix it. That’s the mentality it’s been all season long, just staying the course when teams make runs. If you get a hand-ball contest, live with the result.
Our contest rate was really good. Looking at our defense, we held them to 39% from the field, 28% from the three-point line.
Q. How does it feel to be in the Elite 8 and what did you and your coaching staff tell your players about guarding a dynamic player like Thomas?
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, we’re really excited about getting the opportunity to advance. We’re taking one game at a time. Looking forward to our next opponent.
As far as guarding Cam Thomas, knowing he’s a very skilled ballplayer, to be as young as he is, his mentality, his demeanor, his mindset, is next level. He looks like he’s played a lot of years in college basketball. Just his disposition and his confidence level is pretty unique.
The way he scores the ball from the outside, creating his own shot off the dribble, as well as what his body control and strength getting to the basket, we just told our guys to make sure we don’t gift him any blow-bys, jump any time he shoots it. Try stay in front. It’s easy for me to say it. But it’s a challenge because he’s so good.
Q. You mentioned your bench just a moment ago. To make a deep run in a tournament, how important is it that the bench be as good as it was tonight pretty much all the way through? How important is bench play in this tournament?
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, every guy, no matter if you’re starter or bench, we have to, of course, be ready to compete. I have trust in all 15 guys that’s dressing. They know when you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.
Q. I’m wondering what it is about Eli that’s made him so ready to step into a larger offensive role since Isaiah got hurt.
JUWAN HOWARD: Eli has been like this since the last year I started coaching him. He’s a basketball guy, has a high IQ. Very underrated in a lot of ways offensively and defensively.
But within our family and our culture, we know what he provides. We’re very pleased with how he competes out there on the floor. At times he’s looked at as being undersized. But that’s why he has that chip. He can be a combo guard, at times he’s our primary ball handler, sometimes he’s off the ball. There’s times when he guards the best, whether it’s a guard, point, or two guard or a wing. Like I stated earlier, he’s very underrated.
Sometimes you look at guy’s numbers, you say he deserves to be on the defensive team. Well, watch our games, you understand why we appreciate Eli and what he brings to the table night in and night out. He’s our glue guy.
Q. I know you’re proud of your team, but how does it feel to be in the Sweet 16 for you being a coach? How does it differ from being a player? Have you talked to your team and given them advice as far as having that experience as a player coming this far or just in the tournament, period? Have you done it already? If not, will you?
JUWAN HOWARD: To answer the second part of your question, no, I have not talked to my team about what it’s like to be in a Sweet 16. I haven’t given my experience of playing in the Sweet 16.
As far as the first part of your question, our guys understand that we’re looking at it as one game at a time. At times if you listen to all the stuff that’s out there being written, being said, it becomes a distraction within. But within our bubble, our bubble, we keep it tight. We just stay locked in the moment, locked in the competition.
So one game at a time for us.
Q. The most recent status update I’ve seen on Isaiah is out indefinitely with a foot injury. I was wondering if you have any further update and/or will there be like a game time decision next week?
JUWAN HOWARD: Out indefinitely.
Q. Franz Wagner really turned it on in the last 5, 6 minutes of that second half. Can you talk about what he was able to bring towards the end of the game to help you pull out this win.
JUWAN HOWARD: Big-time players step up in big-time moments. And Franz is a big-time player.
Q. Eli mentioned it was good for the team to see Chaundee smiling. I think he’s a guy, you feed off everybody, but he might be a guy you guys feed off of a little bit more. Talk about what he was able to do after the last couple games where he wasn’t doing much offensively to turn it up in this game.
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, what he was doing does not show up in a box score. I know sometimes in basketball, we get caught up in the numbers. But as a coach, you look at film, you also look at live-game action, seeing what a guy is doing to help impact the game of winning.
Chaundee has been rock-steady all season long. He understands, all his teammates do, understand that when one guy may have it going one night, or two or three guys may have it going one night offensively, but that doesn’t mean that we stop playing. We still have to compete on both ends of the floor.
Tonight Chaundee had it going. There are guys like Mike who last game had 18, today had 5. Keep in mind, I’m not the one focused on or caring about the points. My focus is how you impact winning. Mike impacted winning today on so many things that he did that does not show up in a box score.
That’s how Chaundee has been all season long for us. He’s been doing a lot of special things to help us win.
Q. You see so many great teams, high-seeded teams go by the wayside over this long weekend. Can you talk about the fight that your team had to have to make sure that your season is not over right now.
JUWAN HOWARD: The motto of today was, the words that were shared with the group: empty the tank, empty the tank (smiling). Our guys did that.
Now, unfortunately for the teams that didn’t advance, they have earned the right to be here, to play in this tournament. But all we do is look at what we can control. For us, we had LSU, very tough team, give them credit, well-coached, play extremely well, tough to guard. We knew our job was going to be tough and our hands were going to be full.
But our guys stepped up to the competition. That’s why we’re competitors.
Q. LSU started off hot and in the lead. Soon Michigan took over. Talk about the change you saw on the court when Michigan began to take the lead.
JUWAN HOWARD: Well, we started attacking the basket. We didn’t settle for jumpers. We also got some stops. Yeah, LSU made some tough shots, some that was well contested. That was easily where we could have put our head down, start to point the finger.
We talked about it leading up to this game and talked about it today, about how we have to move on to the next play and fix it, fix it next possession. Like, when we cut the lead in the first half, I think we went up one, if I’m not mistaken, they made a shot at the end before halftime. Then in the second half, they got out to a great run just like the first half.
But our guys kept grinding it, grinding it. Each possession, we got stops when we needed it. We also continued to attack the basket and not settle. But we also made some good shots that was open.
It’s important that you have to take your open shot and trust and live with the results.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time. Best of luck in the next round.
JUWAN HOWARD: Thank you. Stay safe, everyone.