Brandon Johns supplies jolt, quality minutes in Wolverines' heartbreak defeat to Ducks

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Throughout the season, coach Juwan Howard has divvied up the minutes at the center spot among senior Jon Teske, redshirt junior Austin Davis and sophomore Colin Castleton.

In Saturday’s 71-70 overtime loss to No. 10 Oregon, Howard switched things up and went with a small-ball lineup with sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr. at the five for long stretches, including crunch time.

“Brandon gave us some great minutes. It's always next-man-up mentality, stay ready so you don't have to get ready,” Howard said. “That's how Brandon and all of our players approach the game. You've just got to always know when your name is called, and Brandon delivered.”

Michigan forward Brandon Johns Jr. (23) puts up a shot between Oregon guard Anthony Mathis (32) and Oregon forward Francis Okoro, right, in overtime.

With Michigan struggling to get stops and get its offense on track, Howard turned to Johns for the final eight minutes of the first half. During that stint, Johns had his highs (an offensive rebound and assist on a 3-pointer) and his lows (a missed alley-oop finish and missed dunk attempt) as he helped Michigan cut a 16-point deficit down to eight by halftime.

In the second half, Howard rolled with Johns over the final 3:48 and he came through with two of Michigan’s last three baskets in regulation, including the game-tying layup with 25 seconds left.

Then in overtime, Howard stuck with Johns throughout the entire 5-minute session and he produced a steal, a block and an offensive rebound. He also missed two critical free throws when Michigan was trailing 69-68 with 1:41 to play and was nearly the hero as his last-second tip-in just missed at the buzzer.

However, Oregon scored its final seven field goals  last three in regulation and four in overtime  at the rim or in the paint with Johns on the floor.

More: Wojo: Wolverines stung by slow start, crushed by painful ending

“You've got to look at the situations and what's best for your team. Looking at time and possession and then looking at it overall what you need to make an adjustment in order to give your team a spark,” Howard said. “Brandon was that guy who I trust that when he got in the ballgame he would do something special for us. He's been doing that throughout the year and today wasn't no surprise.”

According to Johns, sliding down to the five wasn’t in the game plan and “just happened” as the game evolved.

"I thought I was ready for it,” Johns said. “I think playing (at center) last year really made me comfortable with it, so I didn't really have a problem with it. I embraced it.”

Johns added he felt like the Wolverines were lacking energy when he first checked in. So, he came in with a focus to crash the offensive glass and get Michigan as many extra opportunities as possible.

The result? Johns ended up corralling four offensive rebounds that led to half of Michigan's 10 second-chance points.

“My instincts are just naturally to go to the basket no matter who is on me, who is trying to box me out,” Johns said. “I'm going to get to the basket no matter what. I'm not going to let anybody stop me.”

Johns drew a game-high five fouls and finished with eight points, nine rebounds, two blocks and two assists. He also gave Howard a possible lineup to explore again in the future as Michigan outscored Oregon by 10 points in the 22 minutes Johns was on the floor.

“I think we needed that lift off the bench, especially because we started the game off sluggish,” freshman wing Franz Wagner said. “He really picked it up for the whole team. That was huge today.”

Instant offense

Nothing was working for Michigan’s offense in the early stages until sophomore guard David DeJulius quickly helped change the complexion of the game.

After he checked in at the 10:35 mark, DeJulius wasted little time getting to work and connected on a driving layup to snap a roughly eight-minute field-goal drought.

His impact was felt the most down the stretch when he scored 10 of Michigan’s final 12 points in the first half, including seven straight at one point, and accounted for four of the team’s seven made field goals at the break.

“He's an amazing player. I love his energy all the time,” Johns said. “He just wants us to win. You could see it in his game. He's such a confident player.

“I look at him a lot because he's a bulldog on the floor and no matter what his confidence is always at the same level.”

DeJulius ended his day with a career-high-tying 14 points, marking his fifth double-digit outing off the bench this season.

Slam dunks

In a matchup that featured two stellar senior point guards, it was Oregon's Payton Pritchard who prevailed and got the better of Zavier Simpson.

Pritchard scored 19 of his game-high 23 points after halftime and Michigan had no answer for him late. Even though Simpson's calling card is on defense, he couldn't stop Pritchard from getting to the rim and delivering clutch bucket after clutch bucket for the Ducks. 

"Pritchard is a gamer and it's not his first rodeo," Howard said. "He's a gritty guy, a smart player, high IQ. He can make tough shots out there on the perimeter and as well some of his finishes. But every bucket he made, he had to earn it and he had to work for it."

... Michigan's 23-point first half was the team's second-lowest scoring half of the season.

... Michigan has lost consecutive games for the first time since the 2016-17 season when it fell to Michigan State and Ohio State in back-to-back contests.

... The win was Oregon's first on the road against an Associated Press top-5 team since 1976.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins