Juwan Howard clearly wanted his team to bring the fight to foes in the Big Ten Tournament.
He led the way in that department.
Howard watched the remainder of Michigan’s 79-66 win over Maryland from afar, after getting tossed on a double technical foul, with 10:44 left.
The 6-10 head coach looked ready to charge Maryland’s bench after Maryland’s fearless head turtle baited him. No matter. While Howard spent the rest of the game on ice, someone at the other end of the height spectrum remained on fire.
Grad-transfer guard Mike Smith enjoyed his best game in a Michigan uniform, torching the Terps. He led the Wolverines with 18 points, set a Big Ten Tournament record with 15 assists, and wound up towering over players a foot taller, in the big picture.
“Mike played great today,” Howard said. “He did a great job of reading game situations, making plays for himself and others. To have a game with 15 assists and a plus/minus of 23, it just showed how impactful he was out there.
U-M staffer Jay Smith heads of head coach Juwan Howard when things got testy in the second half.
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“We need a quick turnaround for tomorrow. We’re going to need that same energy and effort that he brought today.”
Smith wasn’t The Lone Turtle Torturer, by any measure. Sophomore forward Franz Wagner and senior guard Eli Brooks scored 16 each, Brooks in shocking fashion.
The player Howard helped carry off the floor at Michigan State five days earlier began the game like he was playing on a broken ankle — at least shooting the ball. He shook off a horrendous start to nail four threes, grab four rebounds and deliver a silent but certain health update.
Senior guard Chaundee Brown Jr. chipped in 10, leading a sub brigade with Marko Ramius-level savvy.
When the turtle tussle grew testy, and Howard got tossed, Mark Turgeon’s team ultimately wound up getting shelled.
Everything escalated quickly just under the 11-minute mark, with Michigan up 10. Howard — who apologized to his team after the game — edged out of the coaching box to argue a call. Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon pointed it out.
Howard recalled: “He’s telling the referee, look at my feet, I’m out of the box. I’m like, ‘Aw, come on, man! This is what we’re doing today? You’re worried about my feet out of the box?’
“He said to me, ‘Juwan, I’m not going to let you talk to me. You don’t talk to me ever again!’ And he charged at me … I was raised by my grandmother and also in Chicago. I grew up on the south side. When guys charge you, it’s time to defend yourself.
“I went into defense mode, forgetting exactly where I’m at. That’s not the right way, how to handle the situation, when you come at and charge someone. I didn’t charge him. He charged me, and I reacted. I reacted out of defense.
“That’s it. Words were exchanged.”
Turgeon denied a report that his comments included anything about “a banner,” maintaining he only said “Don’t talk to me.” He also said the friction between the teams has been going on all three games this season.
Howard grew instantly incensed, and looked like he wanted to go set an illegal screen in Turgeon’s face. He wasn’t around to do so, but his team closed out the Terps for the third time this year anyway.
It took some doing, after Maryland brought plenty of first-half fire.
Michigan’s 40-38 halftime lead seemed borderline miraculous. The Wolverines needed a 16-2 run to close the half just to get there.
Maryland shot like Army marksmen for most of the first half (63 percent), while the Wolverines couldn’t throw it in the ocean from an aircraft carrier, at least until the end. They wound up 3-for-13 from long range, including a couple of airballs by Brooks.
Grad transfer guard Mike Smith had plenty to celebrate, with 18 points, 15 assists and a victory.
Brooks, a surprise starter after a quick heal from last Sunday’s ankle injury, got off to a laborious beginning. He had plenty of company. Illegal screen calls that would have turned Tom Izzo into Tony Montana — introducing his little friend — put freshman center Hunter Dickinson on the bench for all but six of the opening 20 minutes.
The Wolverines trailed, 36-24, at the 4:45 mark of the first half, and appeared on the precipice of a blowout against another crew with nothing to lose. It didn’t turn out that way, thanks to non-starters who proved ready for primetime.
Brown jumped off the bench to hit all three of his first-half shots, including a pair of threes, scoring eight points and playing fired-up defense for a team that desperately needed it. Junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. matched Brown’s 3-for-3 act off the bench, adding seven first-half points.
Fifth-year senior Austin Davis tossed in six points with six rebounds, subbing for Dickinson. It’s little wonder Howard bellowed his approval through his mask on the way to the halftime locker room.
“NEXT MAN UP!” he thundered.
Little did Howard know, he was next man down.
In the end, his team remained on top. The Terps aren’t going home in this COVID-crazy setting. They’ll stay huddled together in a hotel, awaiting word on an NCAA Tournament bid.
Safe to say, Howard and Turgeon won’t be dining together, even socially distanced at 60 feet.
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