Michigan hangs on to take down Illinois, 79-69

Michigan hangs on to take down Illinois, 79-69

Basketball

Michigan hangs on to take down Illinois, 79-69

Isaiah Livers certainly couldn’t wait for his chance to get back onto the court.

After missing two games with back spasms, the second-year forward and Michigan sixth-man returned to the lineup on Thursday, and quickly entered the lineup after starter Charles Matthews committed a quick foul. Just 37 seconds in, Livers found himself on the floor, and he started the Wolverines scoring 58 seconds into the game. From there, it was a layup and a free throw, another layup and a whole bunch of hustle.

But, at the same time, we saw first-hand the Fighting Illini team that Michigan head coach John Beilein had warned about – a scrappy team that was much better than its 4-11 record. Michigan may have gotten out to a 12-4 start, but Illinois quickly erased that deficit on the back of solid defensive play, forcing turnovers and bringing it to within 3 halfway through the first. The Wolverines had their second straight uncharacteristic turnover-happy start, giving the ball away 11 times in the opening 20 minute period.

It looked like No. 2 Michigan was going to take a double-digit lead to the locker room at the half, after pushing the lead back to 11. But, the Illini hung tough, and what looked like a Charles Matthews put-back while up 8 ended up being a shot clock violation. Illinois star guard Ayo Dosunmu nailed a three with just seconds left in the half to cut the deficit to just 5 points, with Michigan leading 39-34.

Illinois looked to keep pressing to start the second half, responding to a Michigan two with a three-pointer to cut the Wolverines lead to 4. But a three from center Jon Teske and a layup by junior point guard Zavier Simpson pushed the lead back to 9 for the maize and blue.

Still, the Illini refused to give in.

Michigan — again — looked to push the lead to double digits, with a breakaway by Jordan Poole ending in a faltered alley-oop attempt to freshman Ignas Brazdeikis. As the ball failed to go in, Illinois made the Wolverines pay, with an Aaron Jordan three-pointer cutting the deficit back to 5.

But then, the Wolverines woke up with Charles Matthews leading the charge with back-to-back dunks, pushing the lead back to 11 midway through the second-half. From there, the two teams kept trading blows, but Michigan got its turnover woes from the first half in check, not getting its first of the second half until the after under-8 timeout.

The Wolverines kept Illinois at bay, with the defense front and center, as Dosunmu not getting his first points of the second-half until there was 2:20 left in the game. Down the stretch, Michigan maintained its double-digit lead, never letting Illinois getting into a rhythm.

Ultimately, while it wasn’t a fun game — by any means — Michigan held on, defeating the Fighting Illini, 79-69Illinois’ 69 points is the most that the Wolverines have given up on the season, with the second-most going to North Carolina who netted 67 in the November loss at Crisler Center.

It was a balanced effort by the Wolverines, with five Michigan players being in double digits, led by Simpson and Brazdeikis both with 16. Livers in his first game back nearly joined the five with 9 points, with 7 of his 9 scored early in the first half. Teske was magical under the rim again, with a double-double, scoring 13 points with 11 rebounds and 4 blocks.

Up next, the still-undefeated Wolverines take on Northwestern, who travels to Ann Arbor on Sunday, with the game tipping off at 7:30PM.

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