UM ap­pears to leave late free-throw woes in past

The Detroit News - - SPORTS - BY JAMES HAWKINS The Detroit News

Cham­paign, Ill. — A sea­son ago, clos­ing a vic­tory out at the free-throw line al­ways seemed to lead to some tense mo­ments for Michi­gan.

This sea­son the No. 2 Wolver­ines are hop­ing that stays in the past.

Michi­gan han­dled its late-game hur­dles with rel­a­tive ease on Thurs­day night, mak­ing seven free throws in the fi­nal 1:09 to ice the 79-69 win over Illi­nois at State Farm Cen­ter.

“Def­i­nitely it was a strug­gle the past sea­son for us, but at the same time that’s why we have to stay locked in dur­ing prac­tice in­stead of mess­ing around at the free-throw line or what­ever the cause may be,” ju­nior guard Zavier Simp­son said. “Just stay men­tally locked in and imag­ine us be­ing in a game in a sit­u­a­tion like that knock­ing them down. We just trust ev­ery­one to go to the line to knock it down.

“Of course, there are go­ing to be some times where some play­ers have some dif­fi­cul­ties, but that’s when our broth­er­hood steps in. We pick our brother up un­til the next time they’re at the free-throw line and they can knock them both down.”

The Wolver­ines seem­ingly had no dif­fi­culty against the Illini as they shot 81.8 per­cent (18-for-22) at the stripe, mark­ing the team’s second-most made free throws and second-best per­cent­age in a game this sea­son. Michi­gan sank 23 free throws against South Carolina and shot 84.6 per­cent (11-for-13) against Pur­due.

The more im­pres­sive part, though, was who was tak­ing and mak­ing the free throws down the stretch in the road en­vi­ron­ment — red­shirt ju­nior wing Charles Matthews (4-for-6) and Simp­son (2-for-2).

The duo had their fair share of struggles in crunch time last sea­son and were the ones op­po­nents looked to in­ten­tion­ally foul as the team’s two worst free-throw shoot­ers.

With Michi­gan hold­ing a 10point lead with 46 sec­onds to go, that’s ex­actly what Illi­nois did, putting the Wolver­ines in the bonus by wrap­ping up Matthews.

Matthews mis­fired on the front-end of the one-and-one but a lane vi­o­la­tion on Illi­nois gave him a second chance. He made the Illini pay, mak­ing the first free throw to make it an 11-point game.

Then after Illi­nois cut the lead to sin­gle dig­its, Simp­son came through with two free throws — just like he did last week when Penn State tried the “Hack a Simp­son” strat­egy in the fi­nal few min­utes — to push the lead to 11 with 28 sec­onds left be­fore Matthews calmly sank two more five sec­onds later to wrap things up.

In ad­di­tion to Matthews and Simp­son, sopho­more guard Jordan Poole, fresh­man for­ward Ig­nas Brazdeikis, ju­nior cen­ter Jon Teske and sopho­more for­ward Isa­iah Livers were a com­bined 12for-14 on free throws.

“That was key for us,” Michi­gan

coach John Beilein said. “We haven’t had to close out many like that. We’ve had dou­ble-digit leads but eight, nine (points) late can go south real quick, es­pe­cially when they chose to foul im­me­di­ately.

“Zavier go­ing to the line and knock­ing them down, Charles mak­ing the front-end was re­ally big to-do as well. And 18-for-22, we’re go­ing to take that all day, ev­ery game this year.”

Wel­come back

Livers made his re­turn to the lineup known and was back to form after sit­ting the past two games due to sore­ness from back spasms.

After Matthews picked up a foul 36 sec­onds into the game, Livers came in and im­me­di­ately made an im­pact on both ends of the floor. He helped al­ter shots at the rim and scored seven of Michi­gan’s first 17 points, high­lighted by an of­fen­sive re­bound and put­back on which he soared above the rim.

Then in the second half, Livers showed off his ex­plo­sive­ness by block­ing a 3-point shot by Illi­nois’ Kip­per Nichols, sprint­ing down the court to catch an over­the-shoul­der out­let pass and throw­ing down a one-handed dunk.

He fin­ished with nine points on 4-for-8 shoot­ing and five re­bounds. More im­por­tantly, he had no lim­i­ta­tions as he logged 23 min­utes, which is around his usual time share.

Late skir­mish

Thurs­day’s game ended with a brief shov­ing match be­tween Illi­nois fresh­man guard Ayo Do­sunmu and Brazdeikis.

With 10 sec­onds left and the out­come already de­cided, Brazdeikis took ex­cep­tion to an un­nec­es­sar­ily hard foul by Do­sunmu un­der the bas­ket and re­sponded by push­ing Do­sunmu in the face.

The play­ers were quickly sep­a­rated and each re­ceived a tech­ni­cal foul, with Do­sunmu whis­tled for a com­mon foul.

“Just playing till the end,” Do­sunmu said of what hap­pened. “Just playing till the clock says zero.”

Matthews

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