After capturing the Big Ten regular-season title, the Michigan Wolverines had high hopes entering the conference tournament.
The good news is the Wolverines advanced to the semifinals by defeating Illinois, 64-63, thanks to a game winner from Jordan Morgan with 7.9 seconds left.
Morgan finished with just four points on two shots, but he made the biggest shot of the year so far for Michigan. Nik Stauskas led the way with a game-high 19 points but made just four of his 12 shots and two of 10 from three-point range.
Illinois finishes the season 19-14 (7-11 in the Big Ten). The Chicago Sun-Times summed up Illinois' immediate future on Twitter right after the game.
Michigan looked sloppy in this game, particularly in the second half. The Wolverines built up a 13-point lead with 16 minutes to play. Illinois would come storming back with an 18-6 run that cut the deficit to one with eight minutes to play.
Illinois held the lead, 63-62, with less than 10 seconds to play. That's when Morgan made a contested layup that proved to be the difference.
Michigan head coach John Beilein talked about Morgan's shot after the game, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
I'm telling you -- I probably exaggerate -- 10,000 times, at least 2,000 times in five years Jordan Morgan has run that same drill. There's a bag to hit him, you still got to catch it in a crowd and keep it up and dunk it if he can. He said he wanted to add a little drama to the game, so he decided to put it up on the rim.
For Illinois, the loss will be especially heartbreaking not just because it ends the team's hopes of playing in the NCAA tournament, but Tracy Abrams missed a floater right in front of the basket at the buzzer that would have won the game.
To say this game was closer than anticipated would be an understatement. Tom Dienhart of the BTN.com noted the stark difference between this game and the last time Michigan and Illinois met.
This game is a big contrast to Michigan's 84-53 win in Champaign on March 4. Illini have won 5 of 6. That's their lone loss in that stretch.— Tom Dienhart (@BTNTomDienhart) March 14, 2014
One big thing that jumped out, especially late in the game, is how static Michigan's offense got in the second half after Illinois' defense tightened up. ESPN's Jay Williams talked about the Illini zone.
Every shot for Michigan has been a contested 3 pt shot. Illinois' zone is giving Michigan a ton of trouble.— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) March 14, 2014
It was also alarming to see Illinois move away from that late in the game, switching back to man-to-man that the Wolverines were able to exploit early and often.
Regardless of the sloppy effort in the second half. Michigan knows that it will play again on Saturday and keeps open the very real possibility for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
John Beilein has done a great job of coaching this Michigan team. It got off to a slow start, going 6-4 in its first 10 games, and had to deal with the injury to last year's tournament hero Mitch McGary. But 18 wins in the last 21 games have these Wolverines dreaming big.
Morgan's heroics late in the game sends Michigan to a matchup with the winner between the Big Ten's No. 4 and 5 teams, Nebraska and Ohio State, and keeps hope alive for the school's first recognized conference tournament title.
The Wolverines went 2-0 against Nebraska and 1-0 against Ohio State in the regular season.
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