Ann Arbor — Sophomore guard David DeJulius was fighting back tears when talking about junior forward Isaiah Livers.
After missing the last six games with a left groin injury, Livers was back in the starting lineup for Michigan.
However, Livers’ return was cut short after he exited Saturday’s 64-62 loss to No. 21 Illinois with another injury early in the second half.
"It took the air out of us,” DeJulius said, getting choked up. “When you know you've got someone who cares about the game, is a better person than he is a basketball player, to see him go down again, it was unfortunate.”
With 15:34 remaining in the game, Livers was fouled while going up for a dunk attempt that would’ve brought the roof down on Crisler Center.
But after he landed awkwardly along the baseline, he immediately grabbed at his groin area and appeared to grimace in pain before slapping the court with both hands in frustration.
It was eerily like the play that had kept Livers out of action since Dec. 21. During that game against Presbyterian, Livers also was fouled on a dunk attempt, landed awkwardly and came up holding his groin area.
Two similar plays, two similar reactions.
"You could (hear) the silence not only from the crowd but from our bench,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “All the players looked at Isaiah as he fell to the floor.”
Following the game, Howard didn’t have an immediate update on Livers. According to a program spokesperson, Livers didn’t aggravate his Dec. 21 groin injury and was “super sore” after the game.
“The injury obviously is day-to-day,” Howard said. “As he gets treatment with our training staff and medical team, we pray that he comes back healthy and 110 percent.”
When Livers was in the game, he was effective, especially for someone who has been out for over a month, and didn’t appear limited.
He nearly threw down a ridiculous one-handed putback dunk four minutes into the game off a missed 3-point shot. He made a driving layup late in the first half. He drained a 3-pointer less than three minutes into the second half that gave Michigan a 38-37 lead — its first since the 13:03 mark in the first half.
“I think the one thing that he proved early is he was probably one of the best pro prospects in the league,” said Illinois coach Brad Underwood, who added his team prepared as if Livers was going to play. “He's got size, versatility. He was shooting it at an extremely high level.
“It's very difficult at the highest levels to be out any length of time and just jump right back in. I hope he's OK.”
Following his dunk attempt, Livers stayed in the game to make both of his two free throws before checking out. He finished with seven points and five rebounds in 19 minutes.
Unlike the Presbyterian contest, Livers ended up checking back into the game. This time, though, it was only for final play where he served as the inbounds man and fired a bullet pass that freshman wing Franz Wagner couldn’t handle.
“You hate to see your teammate, especially when he just got back, come down and grab his old injury,” Wagner said.
“He sacrificed his body for us to come back. We appreciate him and he played his heart out today…I just hope he feels OK tomorrow.”
While it's unclear how much time — if any — Livers will miss after Saturday’s setback, DeJulius said he will continue to have his teammate's back and help support him in every way possible.
“You worry about how he's doing mentally,” DeJulius said. “I just want my brother to be in a position where he's happy and he's in a comfortable space. I know that he's in a dark place right now. It's our job to pick him up."