Michigan coach Juwan Howard praises defensive effort by Spring Grove grad Eli Brooks

STEVE HEISER
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Penn State guard Sam Sessoms, #3, drives past Michigan's Eli Brooks in the second half of an NCAA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Ann Arbor, Mich.  (AP Photo/Lon Horwedel)

Spring Grove High School graduate Eli Brooks tied his season high with 12 points on Sunday in Michigan's 62-58 men's basketball victory over visiting Penn State.

Brooks' biggest contribution, however, came on the defensive end.

With Michigan clinging to a two-point lead, Brooks contested a layup attempt by Penn State guard Sam Sessoms with five seconds left. Brooks' defense prevented a potential game-tying score. Isaiah Livers corralled the rebound and was able to ice the game at the foul line.

“We knew that they were going to go through Sam (Sessoms) and try to get downhill to get a layup,” Brooks said after the game. “We just emphasized not trying to foul, staying vertical, and make him try to score over someone. That was the game plan coming in, make them earn every single shot, make them shoot over contested bodies, and not foul. That’s what we tried to do, and that’s what we did.”

Brooks' effort was much appreciated by Michigan head coach Juwan Howard.

"He’s huge, means a lot to this team," Howard said of Brooks. "He’s one of our best defenders. He gets in the scouting report. I knew he wanted the man to man at the end. Awesome to see him make a winning play.

Howard said Brooks enjoys being on the spot as an end-of-the-game defender:

"Only have a few of those guys around," Howard said. "When you have a guy on your team, it’s a joy to coach. Eli is that person. Got to witness it when he would be playing with Zavier Sinmpson. He’s just a glue guy."

Brooks talked about Michigan's defensive effort that limited PSU's leading scorer, Izaiah Brockington, to 14 points on 5-for-14 shooting. The only other PSU players in double-figures —  Myreon Jones and Sessoms, who both finished with 10 points — were 3 for 11 and 4 for 15, respectively.

“Just knowing the scouting report and executing,” Brooks said. “If you contest every shot, you can look at the numbers and look at the percentages, that’s just something that we preach in our defense, try to contest every single shot.”

Brooks was recently named a third team captain for the Wolverines.

“It means a lot,” Brooks said. “Being here for four years, at a place like Michigan that’s well-known, it was just something I always dreamed of, being a captain in college. Being a captain at the University of Michigan is big-time.”

Offensively, Brooks, a senior, has now reached double digits in scoring in his last three games for the Wolverines, who stand at 6-0 on the season. Penn State fell to 3-2.

Brooks finished with four rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot vs. the Nittany Lions, while shooting 3 for 7 from the field, including 2 for 3 from 3-point range. He was also 4 for 4 from the foul line.

Brooks has now started all six games for Michigan in 2020 and is averaging 9.7 points per game.

It was the Big Ten opener for both teams.

Hunter Dickinson scored 20 points, including the tying and winning scores, for Michigan.

It was a breakout game for Michigan’s freshman starting center, who pulled down seven rebounds and blocked three shots. Dickinson scored 11 of his career high points in the second half as Michigan fought to regain the lead it had held much of the game.

Big Ten play continues as Penn State visits Illinois Dec. 23 and Michigan spends Christmas Day at Nebraska.

Reach Steve Heiser at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.