ANN ARBOR, MI — The Michigan Wolverines hosted another home contest in Big Ten play on Saturday and walked out 64-62 losers against the Illinois Fighting Illini. Michigan now falls to 11-8 overall and 2-6 in conference play and has now lost four-straight games.
Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu, who scored a career-high 27 points in the contest, hit a jumper with 0.5 seconds remaining to give them the victory. Zavier Simpson led Michigan with 17 points on the afternoon.
The Wolverines came into Saturday afternoon’s game with the lift they were looking for in the return of Isaiah Livers from a groin injury that caused him to mix six games. Throughout the day it appeared that would be the case, but Livers was injured in the second half on a transition dunk attempt and after a few minutes on the bench would head back to the locker room to be evaluated.
Cold shooting from the perimeter would be another common thread in the first half for the Wolverines while Illinois, who is far from lethal from beyond the arc, was hitting shots they do not normally hit. That kept the Illini somewhat in control despite Michigan doing a good job making Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn a non-factor. The Wolverines were 5-for-20 from the field in the first 12 minutes of basketball as Illinois would weather an early storm and get out to a 22-14 lead. The Wolverines would struggle to get stops with Dosunmu going off, but did make their last six shots of the half, spearheaded by Simpson, to go into the locker room down four at 34-30.
The second half would open with the Wolverines much more up to the task of making this a game they can win, spearheaded by Livers starting to loosen up and play much better, including a shot that would give Michigan the lead back at 38-37. Then on a dunk attempt in transition, Livers would land awkwardly and grab the same groin area he injured on Dec. 21 and leave the game after shooting a pair of free throws. The Wolverines would not wilt though, fighting after the injury and heading into the final 10 minutes of play down only 52-50.
The Wolverines and Illini would go back and forth throughout the final 10 minutes to play with Michigan holding a 60-58 lead with 3:22 to go and 62-60 with 1:37 to play. However, Michigan was unable to seal the victory and missed five-straight free throws down the stretch before Dosunmu sunk the game-winning shot in their face.
- Livers clearly looked limited in his return and was not quite as quick up and down the floor, but his energy was palpable. Despite the struggles shooting the basketball, the energy level and engagement was much higher on Saturday afternoon than it was the other night against Penn State. Everyone seems more at ease when Livers is on the floor. The fans seemed pleased to have him back as well.
Hell of a pop for Isaiah Livers during player intros at Crisler. The fans seem pleased. pic.twitter.com/ZmyEJphkhn— Anthony Broome (@anthonytbroome) January 25, 2020
It sucks that he got hurt again and one would hope its a tweak as opposed to re-injuring the same area. That’s just luck you wouldn’t wish on the kid or any player who has missed five weeks of game action already with his team needing him.
- The ending to that game was absolutely brutal. Michigan has absolutely nobody to blame but itself for missing free throws and keeping Illinois in it. The final shot was perfectly defended, but the best player on either team made a play.
- Simpson is limited in what he can do from a jump-shooting perspective, but you don’t need to look and further than late in the first half as to why he’s so important and the heartbeat of the basketball team. They don’t have anything close to as poised as he is when he is out of the game, which makes it odd that some fans have latched on to the idea that he needs to benched or play less. They need him to play well in order to have a shot at turning this season around.
- That said, your point guard is going to be the poster child for struggles like finishing an entire half of basketball as a team without an assist. The ball movement in the first half wasn’t great, but then again good looks were not going down, which has been the case recently. That maybe distorts those numbers a bit.
- For a team that has struggled to defend bigs as much as Michigan has throughout the year, they did a tremendous job throughout most of this game in keeping Cockburn off the board. He finished with only 5 points and 3 rebounds and fouled out with over a minute to play after hurting them in the first matchup.
- Tournament hopes took a massive hit this week losing two very winnable home games. With the threat of losing Livers once again, it may be time to come to terms with the fact that this is probably an NIT team right now if the bottom does not fall out completely. All one can really do at this point is just take this team for what it is and be glad that exciting young talent is coming in next year. I have zero positives to offer from this game on what it means in the here and now. This was a gut-punch and a low-point on the season.
Next up for Michigan is a trip to Nebraska on Tuesday night to take on the struggling Cornhuskers. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.