'The ball just didn't fall in': No. 5 Wolverines falter on road again, fade late in loss to Illini
Champaign, Ill. — By the time Michigan took the court on Wednesday night, road teams had gotten off to an 0-9 start in Big Ten play.
The No. 5 Wolverines made it 0-10.
Michigan turned in another stagnant offensive performance on the road and had a late comeback bid fall short in a 71-62 loss to Illinois at State Farm Center.
The Wolverines shot 43.5 percent (27-for-62) from the field and 16.7 percent (3-for-18) from 3-point range, including two open deep-range misses in the final 1:47 when they had cut a 12-point deficit down to four.
"First half, I thought we took too many quick shots,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “I think what we're really good at is moving the basketball and making the defense work.
“That's who we are and that's been our identity. In the second half, we had some good looks and the ball just didn't fall in.”
Senior center Jon Teske finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Junior guard Eli Brooks and junior forward Isaiah Livers each scored 12 for Michigan (8-2, 1-1 Big Ten), which had a hard time keeping Illinois' guards out the lane and big man Kofi Cockburn off the offensive glass.
Following a first half where neither team led by more than five, Illinois used a 10-2 spurt that ended with a layup by Giorgi Bezhanishvili to turn a tie game into a 42-34 advantage with 15:02 to play.
Livers hit one of the few 3-pointers to cut it to five, but Michigan struggled to gain traction as the empty possessions and fouls piled up. With the Illini in the bonus early in the half, Cockburn made four straight free throws to widen the gap to 54-44 with 9:06 remaining.
Livers and Brooks combined to score 15 of Michigan's first 20 points of the half to stay within striking distance before an emphatic baseline dunk by Bezhanishvili and an and-1 layup by Cockburn made it 66-54 with 3:13 remaining.
After struggling the entire half to put together a run, Michigan switched to a full-court press and it helped spark an 8-0 flurry. The spurt featured three-point plays by Teske and sophomore guard David DeJulius to cut it to 66-62 with 2:06 to go.
But that’s as close as Michigan would get as it missed its final four shots — including the open 3-point misses by DeJulius and senior guard Zavier Simpson — to finish with its second-lowest shooting marks of the season behind the loss at Louisville.
“We're a better defensive team than that,” Howard said. “If we want to battle and compete in the Big Ten and have a chance to raise a trophy, we can't allow a team to score 44 points on us in the paint. Then also to have 16 second-chance points and 15 offensive rebounds, that's a recipe for a loss.”
Cockburn finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks to lead Illinois (7-3, 1-1). Ayo Dosunmu added 14 points, Andres Feliz 13 and Bezhanishvili 12 for the Illini, which finished 9.1 percent (1-for-11) from 3-point range but made up for it by outrebounding Michigan 44-28 and going 14-for-20 from the free-throw line in the second half.
“Big Ten basketball at its finest,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “On a night that obviously there weren't a lot of 3s made, it was just a good, hard smash-mouth game. I thought defensively we were really solid.
"We closed this one out, but it was close. I mean, we went from 12 up to four up in the blink of an eye."
The first half was a typical slug-it-out grinder where the teams traded blow after blow, with the lead changing nine times.
Michigan took its largest lead, 11-8, following five straight points from Teske on a 3-pointer and mid-range jumper off a pair of Simpson assists at the 15:04 mark.
Illinois pounded the glass and attacked the rim before using a 6-0 run to pull ahead 22-17 with 7:42 left in the half. Trent Frazier capped the spurt with a jumper, which was the first basket the Illini made outside the paint up to that point.
The Wolverines responded with a 9-2 run that featured five straight points from Livers to claw back ahead, 26-24, at the 4:31 mark. But that proved to be the last time Michigan led on a night where its offense was held in check.
"Playing on the road in the Big Ten you have to have that mental toughness because the game is all about runs, like tonight,” Howard said. “Illinois made a run and now you have to see where you are mentally. Are you going to not go out there and respond or are you going to figure it out?
“I think this is a beautiful challenge for our players and it's good that it's a learning process that we've got a chance to see where we are and what we need to work on."
Late in the second half, Cockburn inadvertently hit referee Lewis Garrison in the head while celebrating a basket and foul. An Illinois spokesman said Garrison was cleared on site by doctors but was taken to a hospital as a precaution. Cockburn said he apologized to Garrison after the game.