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Michigan starts slow, finishes strong to top Illinois

The Wolverines started slow but got some energy from a pair of less-likely sources as they beat Illinois at the Crisler Center on Saturday afternoon.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the game, Michigan had started to see signs from freshman forward Isaiah Livers growing as a player.

Today, freshman guard Jordan Poole joined him on a crucial run in the first half to keep the Wolverines afloat and eventually sail off to a victory.

U-M (14-3, 3-1 Big Ten) topped Illinois (10-7, 0-4) 79-69 on the back 12-2 run from Livers and Poole in the first half while some of the Wolverine starters were in foul trouble.

With the win, U-M won its seventh consecutive game and remained perfect at home with a 9-0 record at the Crisler Center.


The Wolverines started the game slow, as Mark Smith nailed a corner 3-pointer leading into the first media timeout to give UI an 8-5 advantage.

After a few questionable foul calls against the Wolverines, UI took the breaks and turned its lead into four points, 13-9, with 11:58 to play in the opening half.

The hot start continued for UI, as the Illini forced a few turnovers and went on a 8-2 run leading to a 21-13 lead with 7:30 to play in the half.

Then, Isaiah Livers put on a clinic.

The freshman forward put together three jams in a span of five minutes, getting the crowd back in the game on a 12-2 run where Livers scored nine of the points. It led U-M to a 25-23 lead with less than four minutes to play in the first half.

However, UI would regain its composure after a timeout and put together a 34-31 lead following a Kipper Nichols triple at halftime.

U-M struggled to shoot the ball early, but Livers and Poole’s run kept the team in the game as they combined for 14 first half points off the bench.

Junior forward Moritz Wagner, transfer guard Charles Matthews and senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman ran into foul trouble and combined for just three points in the opening half.

The Wolverines shot just 38 percent from the field and deep (3-of-8) in the first half, paired with 12 turnovers which is a recipe for disaster in any situation but managed to only trail by three.

The veterans for the Wolverines came out of the locker room playing with a purpose.

Wagner, Abdur-Rahkman and Matthews would put together a 10-2 run to regain a 41-36 lead early in the second half.

A pair of back-to-back Poole triples would help the Wolverines remain in the lead at 51-44 nearing the halfway mark of the closing half.

Then the Wolverines would start to run away with it.

Two more 3-pointers from Matthews and Livers gave U-M its largest lead of the afternoon at 59-48, forcing UI into a timeout with 9:19 remaining.

The Wolverines would coast to a victory from that point on.

U-M improved its shooting percentage to 51 percent from the field and 40 percent (8-of-20) from deep for the game. The Wolverines also only committed three second half turnovers and forced 17 total against Illinois.

The Wolverines had six different players score in double figures, with Wagner leading the way by totaling 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting along with seven boards and a block.

Game notes

  • Zavier Simpson started for the first time since the first four games of the year. He totaled five points on 1-of-5 shooting while adding four rebounds and assists in 32 minutes.
  • Livers scored 12 points in 18 minutes and put together back-to-back double digit scoring games for the first time this season.
  • The Wolverines were out-rebounded 31-27, giving up 10 offensive boards.
  • Matthews had his lowest minute total of the season with just 16 due to early foul trouble, but managed to score 10 points and go a perfect 4-of-4 from the field.