No. 2 Michigan hosts rival Spartans in first of pair

NCAA Basketball

The way that No. 4 Illinois dismantled Michigan was a shock to the system for the second-ranked Wolverines.

A pair of games against in-state rival Michigan State gives them a chance to restore their confidence before the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments begin.

Playing without leading scorer Ayo Dosunmu, the Fighting Illini blew out the Wolverines 76-53 at Ann Arbor’s Crisler Center on Tuesday. Michigan will play its final home game of the season on Thursday, then head to East Lansing for Sunday’s rematch with the Spartans.

“This is a game truly you can learn from. We will learn from a loss like this and the type of performance we gave (Tuesday) was not acceptable at all,” Wolverines coach Juwan Howard said. “We’re going to come in (Wednesday), watch film and see what kind of areas we can improve on. I call it a horror film because there were many possessions where we didn’t do our job and we didn’t compete at the level of what we’re capable of.”

Michigan (18-2, 13-2 Big Ten) remains in first place in the conference standings but needs at least one victory over the Spartans to clinch the regular-season title.

The Wolverines’ top offensive threats — Isaiah Livers, Hunter Dickinson and Franz Wagner — average a combined 41.4 points per game. Against Illinois, that trio produced just 15 points on 4-for-24 shooting from the field.

“(The Illini) did great defensively by being physical, (getting) into us, not allowing us to get to our spots,” Howard said. “When we went to go finish at the basket, they did a good job of walling up. We did a poor job of rushing and allowing their physicality to speed us up.

“It was more than just one particular guy on our end, it was every guy that played tonight needs to do a better job.”

Michigan State (14-10, 8-10) collected a much-needed 64-58 win over Indiana on Tuesday. The Spartans probably need to beat the Wolverines at least once, along with a good showing in the conference tournament, to receive an NCAA Tournament berth.

Coach Tom Izzo believes he’ll have to rely on his team’s depth to keep up with Michigan.

“We’re going to do everything we can to get ready for them,” he said. “The energy and emotion of the game will help you for a little while, but we have our work cut out. We have to do a better job, I have to do a much better job. We’re going to sub a little bit better somehow, someway, no matter what, and see if we can have enough energy down the stretch.”

They’ll also need Aaron Henry to finish strong. The Spartans have won six of their last nine games. In those victories, Henry averaged 20.5 points. He had 22 points, eight rebounds, five assists and two steals against the Hoosiers. All but four of his points came in the second half.

“I just wanted to win. When the pressure’s on, that’s where guys in my position that have been here before have excelled and stepped up, and gotten teams over the hump,” Henry said. “So, it just all comes down to me just wanting to win for my team, and that’s all I want to do.”

–Field Level Media

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