IOWA CITY — There weren’t many positives for the Michigan men’s basketball team following its 90-83 loss to Iowa. The play of Eli Brooks was one of them.
The junior guard scored a career-high 25 points on 9-for-16 shooting — a noticeable improvement from the last three Big Ten games where he averaged 5 points and shot 30-percent from the field.
After senior point guard Zavier Simpson exited the game with two fouls at the 11:10 mark of the first half, the Hawkeyes opened up a sizable lead. Brooks almost single-handedly spearheaded the Wolverines’ resurgence right before halftime.
With his team teetering on the brink of near-disaster, Brooks hit consecutive pull-up jumpers to cut his team’s deficit back down to single digits.
In the second half, Brooks continued to shoot the ball well. Off feeds from Simpson, Brooks knocked down two monumental 3-pointers that kept Michigan well within striking distance. Both times, in typical Eli Brooks fashion, instead of fueling the Iowa fans’ fire, Brooks simply turned around and jogged back on defense expressionless.
The prowess he showed beyond the arc early in the season gave opponents ample reason to sell out defensively and run him off of his spots — especially catch-and-shoot opportunities off Simpson’s penetration.
On Friday, in addition to hitting a few open shots, he showed his ability to create off the dribble, too.
“I think just shooting the shots in practice,” Brooks said. “Getting familiar shooting them at game speed. Now that people have scouted us, you’re not getting the same open shots. You have to shoot in different ways and create your shot in different ways. So I try to help my shot in practice.”
While Brooks’ offensive production has dipped recently, his overall play has still been solid. Throughout his scoring drought, Michigan coach Juwan Howard has continued to praise his defense and leadership.
“Usually if you have a guy who doesn’t make shots, they forget about playing defense on the other end because they get so frustrated,” Howard said. “He’s shown that he’s dependable. So, I’m very happy with Eli. He’s one of our leaders and I’m proud of his performance.”
Brooks added: “If the offense isn’t working, I try to impact the game in another way. So I just try to facilitate and play defense.”
Brooks’ struggles recently have seemingly put a target on his back. On top of the pressure he’s already placed on himself, the opinions of the fans and media have become much more vociferous lately — something Howard believes is unwarranted.
“He’s been working extremely hard throughout the season,” Howard said. “At times, I know he’s been getting a lot of media attention and a lot of negative press. Unfortunately, at times some of it has been disrespectful I would say and its been unfair. At the end of the day, I have to commend him for staying positive, keeping the mental toughness and trying to find answers.”
That attention is something Brooks tries to avoid when possible. His mentality: keep your head down and ignore the noise.
“I try not to have any contact with that but obviously you’re going to have contact with it,” Brooks said. “I just try to follow people that are positive and motivators. I think surrounding yourself with people like that goes a long way.
“Obviously, you have to realize that not everyone on social media knows what they’re talking about. I’m here for a reason.”