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Takeaways from Michigan’s home loss to Illinois

A good first half, but the wheels came off in the second.

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

Remember how you felt on Monday, when Michigan beat their rival and the Fab Five was all there in person to see it? Cherish that feeling, because it was a win against a Big Ten team, and with how the Michigan men’s basketball has been playing this season, we may not see many more of those.

After a solid first half, the Wolverines fell apart in the second half, getting outscored by the No. 14 Illinois Fighting Illini 51-37 in the second half to lose, 88-73. Michigan falls to 7-11 on the season and 2-5 in conference play.

The No. 14 Fighting Illini are the first ranked team Michigan has played all season. At 12-4, they are one of the top teams in the Big Ten, with wins over No. 11 FAU and Michigan State and close losses to No. 1 Purdue and No. 4 Marquette. They lost their most recent game before this one to Maryland, and have been without Preseason All-Big Ten guard Terrence Shannon, who was charged with rape last month.

The Fighting Illini are projected to be a 4-seed or better in the NCAA Tournament, and they certainly played like it in the second half. Here are the takeaways from a loss.

A brutal second half

After a solid first half showing, the Wolverines got off to a poor start in the second half, allowing Illinois to go on a quick 7-0 run over two minutes (18:37-16:25) to extend the Illini lead to seven.

Michigan was able to climb back and cut the lead to one around the 14-minute mark, but then proceeded to go almost seven game minutes (14:10 to 7:18) without a made field goal. That’s the kind of scoring drought that will lose you games, especially against a good team like Illinois.

Illinois went on a 10-0 run over a 75 second span just after the 13-minute mark and the Wolverines were ultimately outscored 17-2 during their field goal drought, with their offensive struggles and Illinois’ quick pace (Illinois outscored U-m on fast break points, 11-2) putting Michigan in a 16-point hole. They had trouble digging out of that double-digit deficit for the rest of the game.

Those type of scoring droughts have unfortunately become commonplace for the Wolverines; they had a similar drought late in the Minnesota loss, keeping them from earning a crucial conference win at home.

Michigan’s defense simply isn’t good enough for Michigan’s offense to be that bad for that long of a stretch.

So many defensive breakdowns

I feel like I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but Michigan’s inability to play good on-ball defense and rotate well defensively cost them in this one.

Illinois kept attacking size mismatches, and while Michigan clued into it a few times late in the first half and doubled at the exact right moment, the Illini still got a lot of easy buckets right near the rim. And the defense only got worse in the second half, with the Wolverines allowing the Illini to shoot 51.7 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes.

Michigan got beat on cuts and off the dribble way too many times, and U-M allowed too many easy buckets and open shots. The defensive breakdowns that have plagued this team all season are still painfully apparent.

Michigan gets beat on the boards

While these two teams were dead even in points in the paint, the Illini won the battle on the boards by double digits (39-29) and that was a big difference in this one.

Giving up 13 offensive rebounds to the Fighting Illini certainly didn’t help the Wolverines. Rebounding is an effort stat, and Illinois wanted it more in last night’s game.

Solid showings from the big men

The Wolverines leaned on their starting big men in this one, and both Tarris Reed Jr. and Olivier Nkamhoua played pretty well.

Tarris Reed Jr. led the Wolverines with a career-high 20 points in this one, as he was ultra efficient inside (8/10 from field) and showed off an improved midrange jumper in the opening minutes. Illinois went small for portions of this one, and Reed really took advantage.

Just as he was in the Ohio State win earlier this week, Nkamhoua was so good in the mid-post area, making quick deliberate moves before knocking down mid-range jumpers. He ended up with 16 points in this one.

The starting frontcourt combining to score 36 points is encouraging, and it shows Michigan has made an effort to get points in the paint. Both big men played well, but that brutal second half from the Wolverines did them in.

Some great first half minutes from Jaelin Llewellyn

Jaelin Llewellyn is still recovering from knee surgery, but in the limited minutes he has played this season, he’s been very effective.

He provided a spark off the bench in the first half, scoring seven points in the first half, including a huge three late in the half to cut the Illini lead to one going into the break. He also played good defense, forcing an Illinois turnover with a few minutes left in the half to swing momentum towards the Wolverines.

He played limited minutes in that second half, but it does appear that Llewellyn is getting more and more comfortable out there. That’s very encouraging, considering how much Michigan is going to need him the rest of the season, especially in road games in McDaniel’s absence.

Quick injury updates

-The Michigan Wolverines were without Tray Jackson for the third game in a row. Coach Howard said in his media availability earlier this week that Jackson is in concussion protocol, and is dealing with a fracture on his nose that may require surgery. Howard said he sustained both injuries in the loss to Penn State earlier this month.

-Llewellyn, recovering from knee surgery, played 13 minutes in this one, most of which coming in the first half. It’s clear Michigan is still being cautious with his minutes, but he’s still been pretty effective in spurts.

Up Next

The Wolverines aren’t in action again until Tuesday, Jan. 23, as they head to West Lafayette to take on the No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers. That game is set to tip-off at 9 p.m. EST and will be broadcast on Peacock.