With the short turnaround and early tip off, you’ll have to settle for an abbreviated game preview. For more on Ohio State, make sure to read all of our stories from the first two games. The Buckeyes are good, likely the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, but enter this game off a near upset scare versus Northwestern.
Zack Novak is one of Michigan’s players that tends to influence the box score by doing more than just scoring, but today he provided Michigan with a big boost offensively by tallying 14 points. Zack’s weapon of choice on offense was the long ball, and while there were certainly bigger shots in the course of the game, there were many times when the Wolverines appeared to be teetering on the edge and one of Zack’s triples brought them back. His first two 3-pointers went toward building Michigan’s initial lead. His first one was a good illustration of something the Illinois players talked about at length after the game, which was how much success Michigan had when they got out in transition. The two 3-pointers Zack sunk in the second half were big in that they kept the lead Illinois held for most of the game from ballooning into unmanageable territory. They kept Michigan within striking distance in the second half which enabled the late Wolverine run.
I won’t deny it. I started to lose faith. With 10 minutes to play, I was wondering whether a loss would send Michigan to Dayton or the NIT. The Illini were not just getting open looks on offense, they were also winning what seemed like every 50-50 ball. For the first three quarters of the game, Michigan was badly outplayed. It only took eight minutes for Michigan to steal the game. Trailing 51-39 with 8:35 to play, Michigan closed the game on a 21-4 run and walked off the court with a victory.
This blog is generally focused on statistics, but the Wolverines won this game because they had more heart. Michigan has now won nine of its last 12 games and four of those victories were second half comebacks away from Crisler Arena. Remember, this is the youngest major-conference team in the country. Now a team picked last in the conference by most preseason prognosticators, and even left for dead at the end of January, appears to have cemented an NCAA tournament berth and will spend tonight preparing for a conference semifinal game.
Stu Douglass, Evan Smotrycz and Jordan Morgan were all available in the locker room after Michigan’s 60-55 win over Illinois to talk about the victory, Ohio State, and possibly punching their ticket to go dancing.