All it took was Michigan’s most lethal play for the Wolverines to defeat the Illinois Fighting Illini. Jordan Morgan set a screen, Nik Stauskas came off his shoulder, and Stauskas found Morgan rolling to the rim. Morgan’s game-winning shot gave the Wolverines a 64-63 victory. Tracy Abrams had a good look at a potential game-winning shot for Illinois, but he short-armed it and Michigan advanced to the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament.
The game was markedly different than the one between these two teams ten days ago, when the Wolverines steamrolled Illinois on their way to a 31 point victory. That day, Michigan seemingly couldn’t miss. They shot 69 percent from behind the arc, hitting 16 three pointers on the day. Michigan hit only 34 percent today in Indianapolis, and this was largely due to a 2-3 zone deployed by Illinois in the second half.
The Wolverines led for much of the game, and the largest lead even stretched to 13 points. Once the Fighting Illini employed the zone, Michigan couldn’t get any good looks. The offense stagnated, and the possessions turned into forced jumpers with the shot clock winding down. Illinois had not led since early in the game, but they reclaimed the lead with 4:36 remaining. After that, Michigan was trying to claw their way back to a lead, with some uncharacteristic missed free throws by Stauskas and Caris LeVert impeding the effort.
Morgan’s clutch, game-winning shot came off a pick and roll in which Nik Stauskas’ assist made up for his poor shooting day. Stauskas did, however, lead all scorers with 19, but most of his points came off of free throws. He only hit four of twelve shots from the field.
Glenn Robinson III was an offensive catalyst for Michigan as he attacked early and often. He was hitting the Illini with pull-up jumpers and corner threes, only to switch things up and start taking it to the basket. He scored 11 of his 15 points in the first half, but still managed to hit a clutch second half second three as the wheels were coming off for Michigan.
The backcourt duo of Derrick Walton, Jr. and LeVert was also instrumental in willing Michigan to victory. The two combined for 18 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists. None were more important than a clutch rebound, late in the game, by LeVert, who then kicked the ball out to Walton. Without a moment’s hesitation, the freshman point guard rose up and hit only his second basket of the game to knot the score at 61.
The win was the death blow to Illinois’ tournament hopes. The team had only the slightest of chances after winning 5 of their last 6 games, but Michigan once again proved to be too much for the orange and blue. The Wolverines are on a quest to raise their NCAA Tournament stock to a 1 seed, as most bracketologists have them firmly as a 2 seed. There is some debate as to Michigan’s ranking among the 2 seeds, with Kansas, Wisconsin, and Duke as the other projected 2s. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin is also slotted for a two seed. Michigan should jump them by winning the Big Ten Tournament, but whether a tourney win guarantees the Wolverines one of the top four seeds is something left for Selection Sunday.
Michigan will face the winner of Nebraska and Ohio State on Saturday. The Huskers are looking to secure an NCAA bid, as the Buckeyes look to improve their stock from a 5 seed.
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