Friday night was a rough one for Juwan Howard and the Michigan Wolverines, falling 68-53 to Illinois. Without Hunter Dickinson and Brandon Johns Jr, guarding Kofi Cockburn in the paint seemed to be an insurmountable task. However, several of the Michigan reserves stepped up in a big way and at least kept the game manageable up until the last few minutes of the game.
When asked about how the Wolverines were able to prepare for the Fighting Illini, Howard said, “Well, it was hard. You have to figure it out. Sometimes when you only have eight or seven guys you end up playing your best game because guys are so dialed in knowing that we’ve got to do it for each other. That’s the type of mindset it’s been.”
Howard was asked specifically about the game plan to defend Cockburn — who finished the game with 21 points and 10 rebounds on 8-of-13 shooting. The Wolverines had tried running a zone for a few possessions but according to Howard, “it seemed like every time we did go to it, they scored so I had to come out of the zone and play man-to-man. Kofi, he is big and he’s good! He’s not just big, he’s a talent. He’s worked on his game and done a really good job of finishing in the paint.
“When you have a young man who’s giving up 50 to 70 pounds and he’s giving everything he can, and then you also bring in two other young men and they’re giving up 100+ pounds, with Kofi he’s big and our guys were competing and fighting. Kofi has done a really good job of becoming a really good finisher on the low block.”
Howard was also asked about the extended minutes his son, Jace Howard, saw on Friday. Juwan praised the effort of Jace and explained how he has earned every minute he’s received, and his coaches and teammates see that. Jace played 15 minutes and recorded two points, two rebounds, one steal, one assist and one block on Cockburn. Yes, that block really happened.
The Wolverines may have fallen to the Fighting Illini but it certainly wasn’t due to a lack of effort this time around, and Howard recognized that.