MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — This time, Jordan Morgan got the ball to bounce the right way — and Michigan celebrated.
A little more than one year after missing a last-second tip-in that would have given the Wolverines a share of the Big Ten regular-season title, the 6-foot-8 forward scored on a layup with 7.9 seconds left to give No. 8 Michigan a 64-63 victory over Illinois in Friday’s Big Ten tournament quarterfinals and a shot at another league championship.
“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,” coach John Beilein said. “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.
Illinois had a chance to win it when Tracy Abrams drove in for a layup, expecting contact, but the ball hit the front of the rim and bounced off. No foul was called.
It’s about time something went right for the Wolverines (24-7) in this tournament.
Since going 3-0 to win the first title in 1998, Michigan has not won more than one game in the annual tourney. The Wolverines later vacated that tourney title because of NCAA infractions, and Michigan has endured everything from an embarrassing 21-turnover game in a 2006 first-round loss to Evan Turner’s buzzer-beating 40-foot heave, which gave rival Ohio State a 69-68 quarterfinal win in 2010.
Things are supposed to be different this year.
After ending a 28-year drought between outright regular-season titles with a win at Illinois last week, Michigan came into this weekend with the No. 1 tourney seed for the first time in school history and with a full head of steam — six straight wins.
But it almost happened again.
Michigan blew a 13-point second-half lead, scored just six points in the final 7½ minutes and then wound up getting bailed out by Morgan when Big Ten player of the year changed the play coach John Beilein called in the huddle.
“I was looking to be aggressive and raised up to shoot and man, the guy guarding me was still chasing me and the big was chasing me too and J-Mo rolled down the lane and he was wide open,” Stauskas said. “I hit him with the ball and he laid it in.”
The Wolverines’ usual trio led the way. Stauskas had 19 points despite going 4 of 12 from the field and 2 of 10 on 3-pointers against Illinois’ zone defense, Glenn Robinson III had 15 points and seven rebounds and Caris LeVert finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Yet it was Morgan, who wound up the star. He made the only two shots he took — none bigger than the layup he never expected that sent Michigan into Saturday’s semifinals against either fourth-seeded Nebraska or fifth-seeded Ohio State, who played in the second quarterfinal of the day.
Michigan swept Nebraska this season and won at Ohio State in this season’s only meeting with the Buckeyes.
Morgan, who missed the shot that gave Indiana last year’s outright regular season title, made this one.
“As far as catching it, I just put it on the rim and got a nice roll,” he said matter-of-factly.
Ninth-seeded Illinois (19-14) was on the cusp of pulling off a major upset after finally retaking a 59-58 lead on Rice’s driving layup with 4:53 left.
The Illini allowed just one 3-pointer, one free throw but couldn’t stop Morgan’s layup the rest of the way. Abrams and Rayvonte Rice each finished with 11 points. Kendrick Nunn had 10 points as the Illini lost for only the second time in seven games.
“It’s obviously an uncontested shot that I probably could make,” Abrams said. “We obviously wanted to get that one in and we wanted to win, but there was a lot of other plays that we can account back to that we could have did different or could have got an extra rebound.”
Illinois’ zone defense changed game.
Following a media timeout with 11:26 left, Stauskas made two free throws to give the Wolverines a 55-44 lead. The Illini answered with 10 straight points and finally took the lead on Rice’s driving layup with 4:53 left.
Michigan tied the score at 61 with 3:10 to go, but all the Wolverines could muster the rest of the way was one free throw from Stauskas until the surprised Morgan got the right roll.
“Well, we’re thrilled to get that win because as you can see, as Illinois has shown in their last six games, how well the program has played after a tough January,” Beilein said. “They proved how good they were, and, fortunately, we got some good bounces around the basket to finish the game.”
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