Sometimes a player can get in his own way with bouts of self-doubt.
At points during his Michigan career, junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. would’ve fit that description. But now?
“I think my confidence is at an all-time high,” Johns said Thursday.
That’s a good sign for the Wolverines heading into Sunday’s Sweet 16 matchup against Florida State in Indianapolis. And it has shown in Johns’ recent performances after moving into the starting lineup with senior forward Isaiah Livers out with a foot injury.
Against LSU, Johns was assertive from the start. Over the first three minutes of the second-round game, he knocked down a turnaround jumper, missed a 3-pointer and drove through the defense for a dunk. Even though he didn’t make another field goal, he didn’t second-guess himself like he used to.
Even against Texas Southern in the NCAA Tournament opener, Johns didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a 3-pointer after missing his first two-long range attempts. The result? He splashed his first deep ball in over a month.
“My teammates and my coaches have been helping me a lot, trying to instill confidence in me,” Johns said. “I’m trying to reciprocate that. I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts, a lot of my coaches’ words and stuff trying to keep my confidence up.
“It’s been working. I think believing in yourself has been helping more than ever.”
Johns has been open and honest about the confidence issues he battled over his first two seasons. There were even times this season, he admitted, when he would question whether he should take a shot or make a pass, which would lead to indecisiveness.
Those days appear to be behind him. Johns is playing with a clear — not cluttered — mind as he takes on a larger role and the Wolverines adjust to life without Livers, who was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot during the Big Ten tournament.
In the three games since, Johns is averaging 25.3 minutes — up from the eight minutes he averaged in the 10 previous contests — and posting 8.3 points, five rebounds, one assist and one block per start. While he’s shooting just 28.6% from the field (4-for-14), he’s been effective at getting to the line and is 16-for-20 on free throws.
Coach Juwan Howard has made it clear that no one player would be able to make up for Livers, one of the team’s top scorers and 3-point shooters, and Johns has done his part by not trying to do too much.
“I’ve been focusing more on playing my game than trying to play something else that I’m not,” Johns said. “I’m focusing on doing what I know how to do, which is give effort all the time on the court and working my hardest. Take the open shot, be aggressive, draw fouls as much as I can. Just doing everything I can to help my team win.”
With Livers sidelined indefinitely — Johns called it a “season-ending injury” — the Wolverines will continue to lean on Johns and freshman forward Terrance Williams II at the four spot.
But after an inconsistent regular season, Johns has found consistency in his confidence and contributions when he has needed to the most.
“I just want to be ready, be there for my teammates and be a reliable source for my teammates,” Johns said. “It’s been an honor to be part of the starting lineup and, obviously, I want to give it my all when I’m out there. Give everything to my teammates and my coaches and just come out with wins at the end of the day.”
NO. 1 MICHIGAN VS. NO. 4 FLORIDA STATE
Tip-off: 5 p.m. Sunday, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Records: Michigan 22-4, Florida State 18-6
Outlook: This is the fifth all-time meeting between the teams and first since 2018, when Michigan beat Florida State, 58-54, in the Elite Eight in Los Angeles. … Florida State beat UNC Greensboro, 64-54, and Colorado, 71-53, to reach the Sweet 16. … The Seminoles rank 11th in the nation in blocks per game (5.1), 15th in field-goal percentage defense (39.3%), 16th in 3-point shooting (38.2%) and 26th in field-goal percentage (47.8%).
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