The Michigan Wolverines received a massive lift on Saturday with the return of junior forward Isaiah Livers to the lineup in a 77-68 victory over the Michigan State Spartans in Ann Arbor. He was considered a game-time decision coming into this one and he played and started and his impact was felt everywhere.
Livers missed 9.5 of the last ten games with a groin injury that he suffered on Dec. 21 against Presbyterian College. He missed six games and attempted to return two weeks ago against Illinois, but reinjured himself on a dunk attempt in that contest. Livers came back and looked 100 percent on Saturday after missing the last three games in a row and finished with 14 points on the night.
“He felt good. So we wanted to give him a go because we just felt that... he told us health-wise, (athletic trainer Alex Wong) told us that he’s be good to go today,” head coach Juwan Howard said after the game. “I was proud of the fact of how he came out and competed. There was some possessions out there where it was tough for us to score. They came up big, made some clutch shots.
“Defensively, he was very active on the defensive end with his length. Protecting the basket... it was good that there were opportunities that we had where we switched ball screens and he was able to keep a man in front of him. Zay is a talent. It’s that simple. We missed him a lot and we missed having another guy like Zay who can not only make shots but also a guy that has a high basketball IQ that knows how to make plays.”
Fans and media haver been discussing for a month and a half how the Livers injury has affected the ceiling and trajectory of this basketball team, which is something that players and coaches have downplayed. But now that he is back, Howard admits that fast start to the year had a lot to do with a guy who has not been there recently.
“Well, at the beginning of the season, we saw where we got off to a really good start,” Howard said. “And a big reason for that was because of Isaiah. If you recall Isaiah was shooting 50% from the three and was averaging 14 points. And also a guy that just knows how to play the game of basketball. Knows how to make the right play. Another guy on the defensive end from our opponents have to honor. So it was good to see that he came back today healther than what he has been like in the past and was with his presence, it was truly inspiring just to see how his teammates rallied behind him.”
MSU head coach Tom Izzo, one to often play the injury card as it relates to struggles with his basketball team, downplayed Livers’ return to the lineup and said that he was not the guy that beat them on Saturday.
“I mean, listen, how much different would we be with Josh Langford?” Izzo asked after the game. “I mean, of course anytime you’ve got one of your two best players out, you’re going to be different. I think today what we dealt with (from) other players you know...Simpson goes four-for-seven from the three. He hasn’t done that in three weeks. And I mean that’s...give him credit. I mean, he’s competitive kid. I mean Isaiah, I love Isaiah. I think he’s a very good player, but Isaiah didn’t beat us. Johns has been playing very well and they’re going to be better of course with a veteran in there. But...our freshmen just aren’t ready, you know. Our big freshmen are just struggling a little bit. That’s going to happen.”
Michigan’s win over MSU snapped a four-game losing streak in the series dating back to last season and was the first in the rivalry for Howard. If they are to meet again this year, it will be in the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis on the weekend of March 12-15.michig