Courtesy of Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS —— With 30 seconds on the clock, an errant shot in the lane by Louisiana State’s Cameron Thomas bounced off the left side of the rim. As the Tigers’ Trendon Watford lunged for the rebound, he found himself outmuscled by senior guard Eli Brooks. Standing at just 6-foot-2, Brooks came away with the rebound before calmly hitting two free throws on the other end, putting the finishing touches on an 88-76 win for the Michigan men’s basketball team to advance to its fourth consecutive Sweet Sixteen.

It’s fitting that Brooks was the man to clinch the Wolverines’ victory in an electric shootout. In the early stages of the game, Brooks sparked a seemingly dormant Michigan offense with an early barrage of 3-pointers. Brooks, who hit five of his nine attempts from beyond the arc, is shooting a blistering 53.3% from deep through two tournament games.

“My shot is feeling as good as it has all year,” Brooks said. “Coaches always say next shot mentality, take the shots when you’re open. That’s what I’ve been doing.”

Brooks’s barrage from long range proved to be instrumental in the Wolverines keeping pace with an LSU offense that ranks as the nation’s fifth-best unit, according to KenPom. The Tigers’ lead ballooned to as much as nine in the first half, with Thomas and backcourt partner Javonte Smart hitting long contested jumpers with an efficiency usually only seen in layup lines. With LSU’s offense showing no signs of taking its foot off the gas pedal, Michigan needed to cultivate a rebuttal.

WIth three 3-pointers and 13 first half points, Brooks answered the call.

“Eli has been like this since the last year I started coaching him,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s a basketball guy, has a high IQ. Very underrated in a lot of ways offensively and defensively.”

Brooks continued to come up with big buckets in the second half. With the Wolverines trailing by three, Brooks nailed a 3-pointer to knot the score at 51 apiece. Just three minutes later, he delivered again from the left corner. With senior forward Isaiah Livers out indefinitely with a stress fracture, Michigan was left without a clear-cut go-to scorer when in need of a bucket. 

If tonight was Brooks’s audition to fill that role, he aced it.

“The coaches have always been on me about being aggressive, taking my shots. (Howard’s) on everybody because we believe everybody’s really talented on the team. It’s just about confidence and instilling confidence into each other.”

By the end of the night, Brooks produced perhaps the best game of his senior campaign, scoring 21 points on an efficient 7-for-11 shooting. As effective as he was scoring the basketball, he was equally as effective setting up his teammates for buckets of their own, registering a team-high seven assists. Seen on the surface to many as being primarily a defensive piece of the Wolverines’ equation, Brooks proved with more eyeballs on him than ever that he is much more than that. 

You could even say he may end up being the Wolverines’ most essential ingredient to a championship-winning formula.

“Sometimes you look at a guy’s numbers, you say he deserves to be on the defensive team,” Howard said. “Well, watch our games, you understand why we appreciate Eli and what he brings to the table night in and night out. He’s our glue guy.”

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