Well, at least it wasn’t a blowout.
Instead, Illinois fell to No. 2 Michigan, 79-69, at State Farm Center on Thursday night.
This game went about how everyone expected it to. Michigan is undefeated and a Final Four threat, and Illinois is a team that is currently rebuilding with a young roster that still doesn’t have a win over a high-major opponent in 2018-19.
It was clear what was going to happen.
We’ve seen this story before for the Illini.
Michigan started off fast on an 8-0 run while Illinois missed its first four shots. At the first media timeout, Michigan was up 12-4. The game was in danger of getting out of hand early, but the Illini defense turned up the pressure after the slow start forcing the Wolverines into seven turnovers and — most importantly — Ayo Dosunmu happened.
Ayo kept Illinois within striking distance in the first half with 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting with four rebounds, one block, and one steal. His three with under 10 seconds on the clock cut the Michigan lead to 39-34 at the end of the half.
His two chase-down blocks made my heart sing.
In Dosunmu’s last four games he scored 21, 20, 18 and 23 points, while averaging over five rebounds per game. It seems as if Ayo may have finally reached a lightbulb moment over these last few games and is starting to look much more comfortable on the court.
Brad Underwood was also given a technical foul for throwing his coat in the first half, giving us a great gif for future use.
To start the second half, the back and forth continued. Michigan would stretch the lead to around seven to 10 points before Illinois would cut it to around four and the cycle would repeat. Illinois showed some great flashes, but never enough to truly threaten Michigan.
The Wolverines did a much better job of containing Ayo in the second half, holding the freshman guard to just four points in the final twenty minutes. Michigan became much more comfortable working its offense against the unique Illinois defense as the game wore on. The Illini couldn’t keep pace, and Michigan was able to pull away from the Illini in the with relative ease, winning 79-69.
The game got pretty heated between the two teams at the end with Ayo and Ignas Brazdeikis getting called for double-technicals with the refs having to intervene to calm down several players in the final minutes of this game.
Illinois now sits at 4-12 on the season and 0-5 in Big Ten play. This is the fifth straight loss for the Illini, who still do not have a win over a high-major opponent this season.
Simply put, if Illinois want to win games, it needs to find a way to put more points on the board. Ayo put up 23, while Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Trent Frazier scored 15 and 13, respectively. The rest of the Illini only scored 18 points. EIGHTEEN!
In a combined 52 minutes of play, Aaron Jordan, Da’Monte Williams, and Andres Feliz only scored seven points. That just flat-out isn’t good enough. If those three players can’t score more than four points in that many minutes, it’s hard to see why they are playing over younger players like Alan Griffin and Tevian Jones.
The free throw disparity also again showed up in this game. Michigan was 18-of-22 from the line while Illinois only made seven trips making four shots. Illinois continues to have issues with fouling on defense while also having an inability to draw fouls on offense — even though I think Ayo doesn’t get the calls he really should on his drives. Illinois will struggle to win any game where their opponents score 14 more points from the charity stripe than them.
The next chance for an Illinois team that really needs to win a game will be on Wednesday at home against Minnesota at 8 pm.
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