Eli Brooks leads unranked Michigan Wolverines men's basketball team to 73-64 upset of No. 6 North Carolina
By AARON BEARD
AP Basketball Writer
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — Eli Brooks and his Michigan teammates kept rolling off screens, whipping the ball past defenders and burying shots with ease against a flummoxed highly ranked opponent.
“Share the game,” first-year coach Juwan Howard calls it.
The plan is working perfectly, too, for these new-look Wolverines, who took down sixth-ranked North Carolina to give Howard his first marquee win.
Brooks matched his career high with 24 points and Michigan ran off 19 unanswered points in the second half to score a big upset, beating the Tar Heels 73-64 on Thursday to reach the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game.
Michigan will face No. 8 Gonzaga today in the title game. Gonzaga beat No. 11 Oregon 73-72 in overtime in the second semifinal.
Isaiah Livers added 12 points for the Wolverines (6-0), who led by five early in the second half before exploding for a huge run that turned the matchup into an unexpected rout. Then the Wolverines held on amid the Tar Heels’ frantic rally in the final 8 minutes.
Howard inherited a program from John Beilein that made regular deep pushes in the NCAA Tournament, though there were plenty of new faces after losing its top three scorers from last year.
No matter. The Wolverines have experience, size and a bunch of guys willing to make the next pass to seek out a better shot.
“Granted, they’ve been very successful in the past,” Howard said. “But to embrace a new staff and to be all in, I’m very thankful for that because each and every one of them, they didn’t have to. It was a choice, but it was a choice because they trusted the staff, they trusted us as men to help lead them and teach them and develop them.
“But I must say they’re inspiring to watch compete.”
Michigan’s 19-0 burst included a dazzling run of five straight made shots to build a huge margin.
“I think that goes off shot selection, just sharing the ball,” Brooks said. “We take good shots. People aren’t afraid to share the ball because they know the next person’s going to do their job.”
The Tar Heels (5-1) didn’t have much of an answer.
At one point, Brooks buried a 3-pointer to push the lead to 19 and left UNC coach Roy Williams standing on the sideline with both hands on top of his head. Yet Franz Wagner followed with another, then Brooks added a runner that pushed the lead to 60-36 with 11:18 left and finally forced the timeout-hoarding Williams to burn one.