Back spasms keep Michigan's Livers out against Penn State
Ann Arbor — Michigan coach John Beilein was fully expecting to have his entire roster at his disposal with Big Ten play starting back up.
But shortly before Thursday night’s game against Penn State, Beilein learned he was going to be without one of his most versatile pieces: sophomore forward Isaiah Livers.
Livers dressed and went through pregame warm-ups but was eventually ruled out with back spasms and never played in the 68-55 win.
“He practiced the last two days. He asked out of an extra session on Tuesday because his back was a little sore,” Beilein said. “We worked on it. He practiced fine yesterday, but he woke up really sore today.
“We'll get an MRI tomorrow and see where he is. But it was a game-time (decision) and he really tightened up as the day went on.”
Sophomore guard Jordan Poole, who is Livers’ roommate, said he and his teammates were aware of Livers’ ailment but didn’t find out he was going to be sidelined until right before the game.
“Isaiah was fighting with it the last couple days,” Poole said. “He was getting treatment, talking to doctors and wanting to know if he could play or not. Isaiah is a tough guy and he definitely wants to play no matter the situation.
“So, when he said he couldn't play, obviously we were able to tell it was serious because Isaiah wouldn't miss a game like that. But I know Isaiah wants to be back on the floor, so he's going to do whatever he can rehab-wise to get back out there.”
It's the first game Livers missed this season and just the second game he has missed in his career. He suffered an ankle injury last season at Northwestern that forced him to sit out one game.
This season, Livers has averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 rebounds in 21.3 minutes as the team's sixth man who’s able to play the three, four and five positions on both ends of the floor.
“Isaiah is a huge part of our team. It was tough not having him come off the bench and give us that spark,” freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis said. “We all had to be ready to rebound because he's a big body. I felt like rebounding was a big emphasis for us coming into this and not having his scoring ability, we all just picked it up and did a good job of letting that affect us.”
Brazdeikis helped fill the void by logging a season-high 38 minutes and recording his first double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Redshirt sophomore center Austin Davis also provided necessary first-half minutes and finished with nearly eight minutes of playing time, while freshman forward Brandon Johns Jr. saw a brief stint at the four in Livers’ absence.
“It's a sudden change that we have no choice but to embrace it,” Beilein said “We had a plan with (Livers) that was loose because we don't know how they're (Penn State) going to play us. We're just going to have to be really good at being very flexible and that's a great example of that flexibility.”
Beilein added it's "too early” to say whether Livers will be able to play in Sunday’s home contest against Indiana.
“My thought with back spasms — being a guy who's had back spasms — he probably won't be at 100 percent," Beilein said. "But hopefully he can go because we just need the minutes there at that position.”
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers apologized following the game after he appeared to shove one of his players during a timeout.
With 10:52 left in the first half, the ESPN broadcast showed footage of a fired-up Chambers in a huddle, reaching out with one arm and appearing to push freshman guard Myles Dread in the chest.
Chambers addressed the incident in his postgame news conference, without being asked about it.
“I absolutely love, love Myles Dread. He committed to us as a sophomore. So I’ve known him forever, him and his parents,” Chambers said. “Absolutely love him. I apologize to him. I was just trying to challenge him, just trying to get the best out of him, and hopefully I’ll do it differently next time. No, not hopefully. I will do it a different way next time.”
Associated Press contributed