CHICAGO — When it comes to one and done time, occasionaly, it only takes one shot for a team to find its groove. For Michigan, that shot arrived off the hands of Eli Brooks with 8:14 to play in the first half of Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal against Iowa. The sophomore guard splashed a three-pointer to give the Wolverines four-point lead and broke a six-minute spell where Michigan did not score from the field.
“The first one felt good, the second one I knew was going in,” Brooks said with a smile post game.
The Wolverines made seven of their next ten shots, cruising out to a 40-27 advantage at halftime, and used a complete effort on both ends of the floor to defeat Iowa 74-53 to advance to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. The win marked Michigan’s ninth straight conference tournament win, a new Big Ten record (The Wolverines arrived in Chicago tied at eight with Ohio State, which won eight consecutive BTT games from 2010-2012.) Ignas Brazdeikis led Michigan with 15 points, Zavier Simpson had 10 points (4-4 shooting) and 11 assists (tied for the second highest total in a single game in tournament history.) Jon Teske logged a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“It’s really just a testament to the guys that came before us,” Charles Matthews said of breaking the record. “That’s their record, that’s their hard work they put in, and we are just trying to continue that legacy.”
Michigan received a boost before the ball tipped by the news that Matthews would not only play for the first time in almost three weeks but that he would return to the starting lineup after missing games against Nebraska, Maryland and Michigan State.
“I didn’t know, basically going off how I felt,” Matthews said about making his return. “I knew I wasn’t gonna play a lot of minutes this game. This was really just about me getting back out with the team, getting my legs under me and getting a good rhythm with the team.”
The Chicago native’s impact on the defense was noticeable, as Michigan forced Iowa into seven turnovers in the first half alone after the Hawkeyes only had eight turnovers in forty minutes against Illinois’ aggressive defense on Thursday. Iowa finished the game with 10 turnovers. The Hawkeyes also went 1-16 from three-point range after draining a team Big Ten Tournament record 12 triples against Illinois.
“It was a banked one and Brandon (Johns) said he blocked it,” joked Beilein. “That’s a formula you have to do with them. I can’t say enough about Zavier’s job on Bohannon and JP’s job on Moss. We really challenged our guards this week.”
Adversity did rear its head as Michigan went five consecutive possessions called for fouls early in the second half. Four of the five fouls were shooting fouls in Iowa?s first four trips down the floor in the final period. That sequence saw Matthews and Jordan Poole each at three fouls with 17:51 to play.
Despite the challenges that situation brought, John Beilein did not waver, clapping and enthusiastically giving instructions to his team from his coaches box on the opposite end of the floor. Michigan was able to respond to the foul trouble at the defensive end with a blistering performance offensively. Triples from Poole (a four-point play after he getting fouled by Tyler Cook) Brazdeikis, Brooks and a three-point play from Brazdeikis after Nicolas Baer fouled him on the finish pushed Michigan?s lead to 18 with 15 minutes to play. Despite all the free chances the Hawkeyes got at the line, they could not convert, and Michigan rode a 15-2 run capped by Simpson?s second hook shot of the night to put Michigan up 24.
The Hawkeyes, no matter how hard they tried to flap their wings, could not climb out of such a hole with how well Michigan was playing on both ends of the floor.
“It was amazing,” Brazdeikis said after the win. “I felt the atmosphere was different in the warmups and stuff. As soon as I took that shot (his first three-pointer) I knew it was going in and I had to flash the money sign and set the tone a little bit.”
The Wolverines made a statement Friday night after their loss to Michigan State one week ago had some questioning what was happening to a Michigan team that seemed to dominant against Villanova, North Carolina, and Purdue earlier in the season, but went 3-2 in its final five regular season games.
Due to the double-bye, only one team stands between Michigan and its third consecutive Big Ten Tournament championship game: Minnesota. The No.7 seed Golden Gophers beat Purdue 75-73 in an inspired victory Friday evening. Michigan beat Minnesota twice during the regular season, 59-57 at home on a Matthews buzzer beater, and 69-60 in Minneapolis. The Wolverines will now face the Gophers for a third time since January 22.
“I was raised on ‘it’s hard to beat a team three times in a row,” said Isaiah Livers. “So we have to stay focused, this is probably going to be the most important game all year. Playing them for a third time, they know our offense, we know their defense and anything can change. They could make some adjustments we’re not expecting. It’s the game of basketball, we’ve got to be ready.”
John Beilein said earlier in the week that his assistants help prep the Wolverines more than any other team in the Big Ten. Before Michigan took the floor Friday night, assistant coaches DeAndre Haynes and Saddi Washington were sitting courtside, watching the Boilermakers and Gophers, notes in hand knowing their team would have to play the winner less than 18 hours after the Wolverines beat the Hawkeyes.
“Me and coach Saddi watched the (Purdue-Minnesota) game today, you have to do those things, you have to move ahead,” Haynes said in the locker room after the win over Iowa. “We got confidence in ourselves that we can move on (to the next game) but we gotta handle business first. Later on tonight we’ll meet as a staff, go in there and see what we need to do to beat Minnesota. We always prep ahead of time, you just try to move ahead of the game.”
“I have no idea” replied Beilein when asked what makes Michigan good at short turnarounds in the postseason. “Nothing is intentional here, we are just trying to coach them every single day. I am not gonna go around studying why are we winning in these tournaments. I’m just gonna keep trying to coach, things keep happening, and that is great.”
The quick turnarounds have been Michigan?s specialty come March. It?s how the team has amassed a record of 16-2 in postseason tournaments dating back to the 2017 Big Ten Tournament. If Friday night was any indicator, Michigan returns to the United Center on Saturday ready to face the Gophers as the Wolverines keep pushing to protect their adopted home of the Big Ten Tournament, and bring home a Big Ten Tournament trophy for a third straight season.