Penn State 72, Michigan 63
Fresh off last Friday’s hard-fought 90-83 loss in Iowa City, Iowa, Michigan returned to Ann Arbor for an important two-game home-stand. The Wolverines were 1-3 to start the new year and were sorely missing star junior Isaiah Livers, who had been out since late December with a groin injury. Livers’ absence was felt on both sides of the ball, but especially on offense as Michigan’s three point shooting plummeted to under 25% in January.
While Livers’ return to action was imminent but still unknown, the Wolverines had a chance to veer back on track after losing two straight. It started on Wednesday night for the Wolverines (11-6, 2-4 conf) against Pat Chambers’ Nittany Lion ball club (13-5, 3-4 conf). Penn State came into the game following Saturday’s 14-point home win against Ohio State, but were struggling on the road like every other team in the Big Ten this season.
The home court advantage did not seem to matter on Wednesday night as Michigan’s shooting struggles continued and the Wolverines trailed for most of the game. Down 62-52 with a little over four minutes left in the game, Michigan clawed back to within five off a Jon Teske jump shot and a three-pointer from senior Zavier Simpson.
The next possession down the floor, Simpson gave up a good look to Penn State’s Curtis Jones, who was able to convert a layup off the glass to push the lead back up to seven points. Michigan came back with two great looks on three-point attempts, but both hit iron. Jones secured the defensive rebound off junior Eli Brooks’ second chance attempt and went coast to coast to convert the layup and drew a foul for an and-one.
Jones was able to convert the free-throw attempt to push the Nittany Lion lead back up to ten. It proved to be the final nail in the coffin as Penn State finished with a 72-63 win. The sequence was indicative of how the night went for the Wolverines- whenever they needed to hit a shot or force a stop on defense, they could not execute. What was most frustrating perhaps from Wednesday’s result was that Penn State’s lead hovered around single digits for much of the second half. That left the door open for Michigan, who would’ve had a chance to come back and win the game had they made just a few more shots.
Speaking of the poor shooting, Michigan finished the night shooting 5-28 (17%) on three-point field goals and 24-68 (35%) overall. Simpson led Michigan in scoring with 18 points on 8-23 shooting to go along with six rebounds and six assists. Much of the offensive load fell on Simpson, which led him to struggle with turnovers (6) and his shot (2-7 on three pointers). Sophomore Brandon Johns Jr. scored a career-high 14 points filling in for the injured Livers, while Brooks added an inefficient 12 points.
In contrast, Penn State shot at a 42% clip from behind the arc, including a 3-4 night for Myeron Jones (16 points) and almost 50% shooting from the field. Future NBA player Lamar Stevens led the Nittany Lions in scoring with 19 points, including 14 in the first half. Curtis Jones took over in the second-half with 16 points and three threes to finish the game with 18 points.
To someone who did not watch the game, the reason for Michigan’s loss could be summed up simply: Penn State hit their shots, Michigan did not. You will not win many conference games, especially in this year’s loaded Big Ten, shooting as poorly as the Wolverines did.
Illinois 64, Michigan 62
Wednesday night’s loss was quickly forgotten as Michigan received confirmation that Livers would return to the court on Saturday morning after missing six games. It was perfect timing for the Wolverines, who were set to take on a very hot 21st ranked Illinois team that was on a five-game winning streak entering Saturday’s contest.
Unfortunately, Livers’ return was short-lived as Isaiah came down in pain following a dunk attempt. He left the game not even five minutes into the second half and would not return. At initial glance, he appeared to reaggravate his injury, but multiple team-sources refuted such claims and head coach Juwan Howard listed him as day-to-day in his post-game press conference.
Things then went from bad to worse for the Wolverines. With less than two minutes left in the game, Michigan held a 62-60 lead and senior Austin Davis had the chance to put the game away at the free throw line, but missed the front-end of a one-and-one. Freshman Franz Wagner then missed both of his free throw attempts and Illinois’ Trent Frazier made his pair of free throws at the other end to tie the game at 62 with under a minute to play.
The next possession down the floor, Teske missed an easy bucket from in-close with 29 seconds left to play. Illinois held for the last shot and put the ball in the hands of their star player Ayo Dosunmu, who knocked down a jumper over Simpson with 0.5 seconds to play and gave the Illini a 64-62 victory.
Simpson had to shoulder the load offensively again and led the Wolverines with 17 points on 7-12 shooting to go along with three rebounds and three assists. Teske and Wagner each scored 12, but each did it on just 4-14 shooting from the field and 1-6 on threes. Michigan finished the game shooting at almost 40% overall, but shot a horrid 4-17 on threes (23%) and 12-21 (57%) at the free throw line.
Meanwhile, Dosunmu gave NBA scouts plenty of film with his 27 point performance on 11/18 shooting. He was able to score from all areas of the floor and made several tough contested shots. Andres Feliz put up 15 points off the bench, scoring 12 in the second half, but star bigman Kofi Cockburn was held in check with only five points before fouling out late in the game. The Illini finished the game shooting almost 45% overall from the field, and a respectable 36% on threes.
Both home losses move Michigan’s record to (11-8 overall, 2-6 conf.), which is good for 12th place in the Big Ten. As far as the NCAA Tournament goes, the Wolverines are on the bubble. This season is close to going off the rails with the uncertainty of Livers’ health going forward and a daunting Big Ten schedule remaining. Fortunately, the Wolverines have a chance to land back on track against a struggling Nebraska squad in Lincoln next Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. on ESPNU.