LeVert slam and Morgan's winner via Dustin Johnston/UMHoops
Jordan Morgan's shot got the roll. Tracy Abrams didn't give his a chance, clanging his last-second floater off the front iron.
In an all-too-close game against Illinois, that ended up being the difference for Michigan, which narrowly avoided being bounced in their first Big Ten Tournament game despite playing ugly defense and seeing their offense grind to a halt when the Illini switched to a 2-3 zone in the second half.
In the early going, it looked like the Wolverines would win comfortably. Michigan jumped out to a 12-7 lead despite missing a few open three-point looks. After the Illini closed the gap, Michigan pushed it back up to five by halftime thanks to a spectacular breakaway dunk by Caris LeVert. At the break, Michigan was 7/12 from two and 6/13 from three. The defense wasn't playing very well, sure, but Illinois would inevitably have trouble keeping up. Right?
Wrong. John Groce called for the 2-3 zone for most of the second half, and suddenly the Wolverines couldn't generate anything inside the arc. Michigan only attempted five two-pointers in the second half. To make matters worse, the outside shots stopped falling: 4-for-17 on threes in the latter stanza. Nik Stauskas, despite leading the team with 19 points, had an unusually poor day from the field, shooting 2/2 inside the arc but just 2/10 beyond it; his saving grace was getting to the line, where he hit 9/10 attempts.
While Michigan went cold, Illinois kept carving up the Wolverine defense, and Rayvonte Rice gave the Illini a 63-61 lead on a layup with just 2:31 on the clock. For some reason, however, Groce decided that was the time to go back to man-to-man defense. Stauskas immediately took advantage, driving past his defender and drawing a foul; he'd split the pair of free throws to close the gap to one.
Jordan Morgan made the defensive play of the game on the next possession, teaming with Derrick Walton to hedge Tracy Abrams and pin him against the sideline; Abrams's had to chuck up an airball as the shot clock expired, giving Michigan a chance to retake the lead.
They'd do just that off a high ball screen for Stauskas, though not in the way they'd planned:
Two Illinois defenders made a shot near-impossible, so Stauskas rose above them and delivered a pinpoint feed to Morgan rolling towards the basket. Michigan's senior captain put it up soft, and the ball fell through after a couple bounces on the rim, giving the Wolverines a one-point edge with seven seconds left.
After a timeout with 3.9 seconds remaining, Abrams had one last chance to win the game for Illinois. As Illini guards had done for much of the afternoon, he blew right past the Michigan defense, then pulled up in the paint for a short floater. The shot came out short, however, and the Wolverines—partially out of joy, partially out of relief—ran celebrating to the Michigan bench.
It wasn't pretty. It was a win. Now Michigan awaits the winner of OSU/Nebraska, whom they'll play tomorrow at 1:40 on CBS in the conference semifinals.