Hopefully there were lessons learned in No. 8 Michigan’s 64-63 victory over Illinois Friday (Mar. 14) in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Wolverines (24-7) must improve their interior defense if they have any hopes of winning this tournament or making a lengthy run in the NCAA championships beginning next week.
Morgan in foul trouble
Not only did Illinois (19-14) drive to the basket at will, they nearly put Jordan Morgan on the bench with his fifth foul.
If that was the case, Morgan would not have been able to score the winning basket with nine seconds remaining.
With Michigan trailing 63-61 and :55 showing on the clock, Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas earned a pair of free throws on a drive to the basket. After making the first which gave him 9-of-9 for the game, he surprisingly missed the second, giving Illinois a one-point lead and a chance to ice the game.
But the Wolverines forced an Illini turnover and Michigan had an opportunity to to retake the lead with :09 left. Practically everyone in the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd, including the Illinois defense, thought Stauskas was going to shoot a three, but the Michigan assist leader found Morgan instead for the winning basket.
Illinois, who came into the game winners of five of their last six games, had one last chance but a last-second shot went astray.
The Wolverines, who 10 days ago clobbered the same Illinois team by 31 points in Champagne, thought they might be in for another easy win when they had a 55-44 lead with 11 minutes to go. But Illinois coach John Groce ditched his man-to-man defense and went to a 2-3 zone.
Suddenly Michigan abandoned its normal offense and began settling for long threes. And they missed often, allowing Illinois to go on a 15-3 run and take a 59-58 lead. “Give Illinois credit for playing great zone defense,” John Beilein told ESPN after the game.
Michigan at times switched to Beilein’s 1-3-1, but overall it seemed like the Wolverines were more interested in where they might play in the upcoming Big Dance.
Well, they should have no trouble getting up for arch rival Ohio State, when the two teams meet Saturday (Mar. 15) at 1:40 pm. The Buckeyes came from behind Friday to oust Nebraska, 71-67.
Should the Wolverines get past the Buckeyes and then win the Big Ten Tournament Sunday, there’s an outside chance they could earn a one seed, but most likely they will wind up with a two, and if they lost to Illinois, they could have dropped down to a three.
Stauskas led Michigan with 19 points but hit only 2-of-10 from three. Glenn Robinson III had 15, while Caris LeVert scored 13.
Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice had 11 apiece, but Rice probably wishes he had a missed dunk to do over again.
Illinois will be awaiting a bid to the NIT.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Joel Greer