Without Ayo Dosunmu, one of the best players in college basketball, No. 4 Illinois came to Ann Arbor and shellacked No. 2 Michigan by the final score of 76-53.
It was a shockingly poor display of basketball from the Wolverines, who have looked at times like the best team in the sport this season, especially since their return from the state-mandated COVID-19 pause earlier this month.
Neither team could get anything going offensively in the early-goings, playing to just a 2-2 tie through the first four and a half minutes of play. The struggles continued from there, as the Wolverines and Fighting Illini played to a 10-10 deadlock with 10:24 left in the first half.
Something had to give, one team was going to take charge at some point, and it was Illinois. The Illini went on a 9-2 run to grab a 19-12 lead. Michigan counterpunched to cut the deficit to 21-18, but unlike many opponents this season, Illinois took the punch and responded.
The Illini closed the half with a 13-4 run to take a 33-22 lead into the locker room.
When Michigan came from 12 down to beat Wisconsin in its first game back from its 23-day pause, the Wolverines used the opening minutes of the second half to get back in the game and spark the comeback.
That didn’t happen tonight. Illinois increased its lead to 45-29 in the opening four minutes of the second half, and the rout was on. The Illini pushed their lead to as many as 28 points before settling for the 23-point victory.
1. Wolverines man-handled on the glass
Illinois won this game with two things: excellent defense and superior rebounding. The quickness of the Illini guards made it difficult for Michigan to get open looks from the outside, and the Wolverines turned into a one-on-one team offensively. That’s not their game. In the rebounding department, this was no contest. Illinois outrebounded Michigan 42-26 overall, and had a 12-5 edge in offensive rebounds. Unsurprisingly, that led to a massive disparity in second chance points (22-5) in favor of the Illini. Defense and rebounding come down to a team’s desire, and on Tuesday night, Illinois had it and Michigan did not.
2. Dickinson vs. Cockburn
Hunter Dickinson has spoiled us with how good he’s been this season. Up to this point, there hadn’t been one challenge the freshman has faced that he hasn’t been ready for. But on Tuesday – against one of the biggest and best centers in the Big Ten – Dickinson struggled mightily. The freshman finished with 6 points on 1-of-8 shooting, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. Meanwhile, after a slow start to the game, Cockburn made his presence felt by finishing with 12 points, 7 rebounds and a block. Everyone has tough games. They’re inevitable. We just hadn’t seen many of them out of Dickinson so far this season. He’s responded well to minor adversity earlier this season. We’ll see how he responds to this outing.
3. Wagner, Livers stifled offensively
Much like Dickinson, we’ve gotten used to seeing Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner raise their games when the moment called for it. That didn’t happen tonight either. Livers was held to 7 points on 2-for-7 shooting, and appeared to injure an ankle in the second half. The senior rounded out his night with 6 rebounds and a block. Wagner, meanwhile, was shockingly ineffective. The sophomore – coming off of two consecutive 21-point performances – scored just 2 points and was 1-of-9 from the floor. Wagner added 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal. These two guys have led the way for the Wolverines throughout the season, and they’ll need to respond to tonight’s game the way that veterans and future professionals should.
4. The fragility of college basketball
As mentioned above, this was a stunning result given how well Michigan has played all season long. But it served as a microcosm of how fragile a college basketball season can be. The Wolverines are quickly approaching the lose-and-go-home portion of the season with the upcoming Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. As good as Michigan has been, this game showed how quickly a season can come to a close. If the Wolverines have a stinker like this one in tournament play, it’s all over – that quick. Juwan Howard will have to find a way to impress that point to his guys following this loss.
5. A home-and-home with Sparty
The Wolverines don’t have long to lick their wounds. Michigan has a home date with rival Michigan State in less than 48 hours, as the Spartans travel to Ann Arbor on Thursday. The rivals will then turnaround and play again on Sunday in East Lansing. In addition to the bragging rights that come from these games, Michigan State will be looking for a big win over the No. 2 team in the land to clinch a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Will Tuesday’s result light a fire under the Wolverines ahead of back-to-back matchups with their rivals? We’ll find out soon.