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Juwan Howard was on his best behavior in Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament opener.
Sure, he worked the officials. Yes, I have spent most of Thursday’s game barking out instructions to his players from him. He even hugged Indiana’s players and coaches in the handshake line.
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But after serving a five-game, league-imposed suspension for taking a swing at Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft on Feb. 20, the Wolverines coach was much more muted as Michigan’s NCAA Tournament hopes may have slipped away with a 74-69 loss to the Hoosiers.
“I’m human, I have feelings, I care,” Howard said after his team blew a 17-point lead in the final 13 minutes. “It’s been an emotional road. Did I get sleep last night? No.”
Whether it was the sleeplessness, the suspension or something else, Howard wasn’t his usual fiery self on the sideline.
And given the stakes — with Michigan and Indiana both trying to play their way into the 68-team NCAA Tournament field — Howard easily could have lost his cool as Indiana charged back in the second half, a highly partisan crowd providing the energy to come back .
But if Howard was sweating this one, he never let it show. Instead, Howard just kept urging his team to slow down, settle down and run the offense as Phil Martelli, Howard’s temporary replacement to end the regular season, remained seated.
“We came out with a lot of energy in the first half because we were happy to have our coach back,” said Devante’ Jones, who scored 18 points. “I’m just mad we didn’t get the ‘W’ for him.”
Getting back into a normal game-day routine was a respite for Howard.
The Wolverines played their first game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in three years, their first with Howard in charge. Two years ago, Michigan was warming up on the same court when league officials announced the tournament had been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, the games were played at Lucas Oil Stadium, and Howard caused a stir there when he was ejected for a midgame sideline spat with former Maryland coach Mark Turgeon.
This time was different, even if Howard and the Wolverines didn’t agree with every call.
Howard emerged from the tunnel moments before player introductions, dressed in a bright maize sweatshirt. He heard a chorus of boos as he greeted his players with the traditional handshakes, hugs and fist bumps as they finished warmups.
And when Michigan’s star center Hunter Dickinson picked up his second foul on a technical foul with 5:18 left in the first half, Howard didn’t complain. He brought Dickinson to the bench, had a brief conversation and pulled him out of the lineup as Indiana cut the deficit to 29-21.
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Howard kept his poise, too, when Indiana coach Mike Woodson was called for a technical late in the first half.
But after two prominent skirmishes in 12 months, Howard was ready to not become the headline maker.
“I love teaching, I love being with my guys, and I thought it was great to be with all of you yesterday,” Howard said, referring to the reporters. “There were a lot of teaching moments during the game.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism