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Wolverines lose to Fighting Illini in first game back from COVID outbreak

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Michigan is 1-3 in conference play.

Michigan v Illinois Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

After 10 days off, the short-handed Michigan Wolverines came up short on the road against the Illinois Fighting Illini, 68-53.

Despite not having Hunter Dickinson, Brandon Johns Jr. and Zeb Jackson, the Wolverines fought hard on defense and played with a lot of effort to keep this one close for the majority of the game. And despite playing with energy, Michigan struggled to score all night long, shooting 36.7% from the field. DeVante’ Jones led the Wolverines with 17 points, and while he was in foul trouble all night, Moussa Diabate held his own inside with nine points and six boards.

First Half (Illinois led, 26-22)

The first 20 minutes of this game was Big Ten basketball at it’s finest, with both teams having to grind out each bucket at a slow pace. Kofi Cockburn did have 12 points, but the effort on defense on him and the rest of the Illini was great. Illinois didn’t dominate the rebounding battle like you thought they might (20-17).

Despite some impressive defense, the Wolverines couldn’t capitalize off momentum and score much on offense. The only real offensive spark came from Jones, who led the Wolverines in scoring with 11 in that half. He drove to the rim like a running back, absorbing contact and staying balanced in the air for finishes.

The energy from Jace Howard was contagious as well, as he had the two standout hustle plays of the night for the Wolverines — the block on Cockburn and diving for the loose ball and getting it to Jones for a three to cut the first half deficit to three.

The energy from the Wolverines on both sides was encouraging to see in that first half. Without Dickinson and Johns Jr., I can’t imagine expectations were high for most Michigan fans. But in the first half they stayed solid enough on defense to keep it close.

Second Half

The offensive issues that have plagued Michigan all year long reared their ugly head in the second half. And despite great effort early, l think Wolverines eventually fell behind by double digits because they couldn’t keep up with Illinois scoring wise.

Michigan played the first 13 minutes of the half close, cutting the Illini lead to one with seven and a half minutes to play, but offensive bursts from Kofi Cockburn (21 points, 10 rebounds), Trent Frazier (18 points) and Alfonso Plummer (15 points) were enough to give Illinois the victory.

Michigan fans have to be encouraged by the production they got out of their bench tonight. While more depth to cover Cockburn would have been nice, solid scoring plays from Frankie Collins (five points) and Kobe Bufkin (six points) gave the Wolverines life.

It was nice to see a shorthanded team play with effort all night long, but an offense that was already bad with Dickinson got even more stagnant.

With the loss, the Wolverines fall to 7-7 on the year, winning only one of their four conference games.

Michigan heads home for the next game on Tuesday, Dec. 18, to take on Maryland at 7 p.m. Following that, the Wolverines will head to Bloomington to face Indiana five days later for a noon tip-off.