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Takeaways from Michigan’s loss to Illinois

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Close, but no cigar.

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

Michigan lost to Illinois 93-85 on Sunday at the Crisler Center. The game was inching towards blowout territory, but then Michigan buckled down and came withing two points of tying the Fighting Illini. Here are takeaways from the loss.

Alfonso Plummer and Kofi Cockburn were unstoppable

Plummer put on a show from behind the arc, going 5-of-8 from 3, and 7-of-11 overall. Plummer finished the day with 26 and continuously dropped daggers against Michigan and continuously thwarted any chances of a Michigan comeback.

Cockburn was impressive in the paint, sometimes looking unguardable. While Hunter Dickinson bottled up some of Cockburn’s production, Kofi was still able to score with ease far too often. Cockburn was 11-of-15 for 27 points.

Michigan struggled on defense

Here’s interim coach Phil Martelli’s thoughts.

“We just weren’t good enough and trailed for 40 minutes, and defensively we seem to be chasing for a lot. Maybe the last eight minutes, we stopped chasing, and we were able to dig our feet in and play. It has nothing to do with an individual player, has nothing to do with the players. That is squarely on my shoulders in terms of ‘okay, what, what nugget did I leave out in preparation?’ Because their speed in the first half, coming off the dribble handoffs had a dramatic impact on us. And that’s where I just felt we’re really chasing this game and not settled in.”

Michigan’s biggest bright spots were Caleb Houstan and Devante Jones

Jones had his highest scoring output of the year with 25 points, going 8-of-16 from the field, while also notching 10 assists. A lot of Jones’ damage came from driving to the basket with aggressiveness, finding a lane and taking it.

The freshman Houstan seemed to have a confident demeanor against the Illini, going an impressive 6-of-8 for 21 points. If Houstan can start knocking down three pointers with more regularity and raise his overall field goal percentage slightly, perhaps he’ll be a big key for the Wolverines for their stretch run.

Jones’ 25 points marks the most points he’s scored this season, the 21 from Houstan tied his season high.

No margin for error moving forward

Michigan needs to play well the final three games of the regular season to aid their quest for an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. The problem is their schedule presents a major challenge — Michigan will be at home vs. Michigan State on Tuesday and No. 25 Iowa on Thursday, before closing the season out on the road against No. 22 Ohio State on Sunday. That’s a gauntlet to end the year. How Michigan plays during this final stretch will greatly influence whether they’ll be part of March Madness or have to settle for the NIT.

Michigan fought back admirably against a more talented team. Further, Michigan has faced a week of adversity with the Juwan Howard suspension. The team has been fighting, they haven’t thrown in the towel. If only results could soon follow, because the dedication is there.