Sports Journalism Blog

By Michael Harley | @mhar3481

Sports Capital Journalism Program

INDIANAPOLIS — As the Michigan players approached the bench at the end of pregame warmups before the second round of the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament, nearly every one of them stopped to greet their coach, Juwan Howard, with a hug.

At the end of Michigan’s 74-69 loss to Indiana, after a 17-point lead had gotten away and the Wolverines were left to wonder about their chances of getting into the NCAA tournament, Howard met Indiana coach Mike Woodson in a brief embrace. At least two Hoosiers, Khristian Lander and Tamar Bates, stopped Howard for a hug and a brief conversation.

Between those emotional moments, Michigan’s hope to win a fourth Big Ten championship in the last five tournaments ended suddenly. Michigan’s loss marked the first time the Wolverines failed to reach a conference quarterfinal since 2006.

Since the confrontation with Wisconsin coach Greg Gard in the handshake line following a loss to the Badgers on February, Howard’s behavior had been scrutinized on a national level.

After his first game back on the bench, he scrutinized himself.

“It starts with me,” Howard said. “I take full accountability. I’m never the one that’s going to deflect or point the finger….I’m going to watch film and there’s going to be a lot of sleeping moments where I have a lot of disturbance in my sleep because I’m going to be playing every play, after every play on how I could have done better and putting them in a position, what I could have done better to secure this victory for us. What did I do wrong, you know, I’m going to look at myself in the mirror first.”

The Wolverines led 60-43 with 12:52 to play. An Indiana team that had endured a painful series of late-game disappointments did not appear capable of coming back. But the Hoosiers were helped by a series of Michigan mistakes in the second half, when 10 Michigan turnovers led to 17 Indiana points.

Suddenly Gainbridge Fieldhouse was filled with noise, the Hoosiers were gaining confidence down the stretch, and the Wolverines were out of the tournament. When Howard was asked how he was feeling after all the ups and downs, he was grateful for the question.

“I’m human,” Howard said. “I have feelings, I care. I would not stop caring. It’s been an emotional ride. Did I get sleep last night? No. But I love teaching, I love coaching, I love being here, I miss being with my guys. Yesterday I got an opportunity to sit in front of the media and see some familiar faces that I hadn’t seen in two weeks. And I thought that was great, just to be back and enjoy and take all those questions and get that connection back. But now, it’s roll up our sleeves, stay dialed into the competition and continue to grow as a coach and also as a person.”