It’s a moot point. No one will ever know if Michigan could
have earned an invitation to the NCAA Tournament with a win over
Illinois on Saturday, as many people believed.

Michigan dropped a 74-60 decision to the Fighting Illini in the
semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament. The team was not invited to
the Big Dance and will play Missouri in the NIT tomorrow night.

“I thought that if they win (against us), they’re a
definite,” said Illinois coach Bruce Weber of
Michigan’s aspirations to make the NCAA Tournament.

Both teams were missing key contributors. Forward Roger Powell
was out for Illinois. Michigan was without its leading scorer from
the regular season, Lester Abram, who injured his left shoulder on
a drive to the hoop in Friday’s win over Iowa and was unable
to play.

“The decision was made right at game time,” said
Michigan coach Tommy Amaker of Abram. “We knew throughout the
evening yesterday and then certainly into this morning that he was
in a lot of pain. It was very sore, and he was having trouble
lifting his arm above his head.”

The 6-foot-6 Powell, who was third on the team in scoring with
11.5 points per game, suffered a concussion against Indiana on
Friday.

Illinois came out flying from the opening tip, building a 15-5
lead. Guard Dee Brown repeatedly led the Fighting Illini down the
floor in transition. Within the game’s first five minutes,
the “One Man Fast Break,” as he has been nicknamed in
Champaign, scored seven points, grabbed two steals and dished out
an assist.

“They try to get you to turn the ball over,”
Michigan guard Horton said. “And it worked at the beginning
of the game.”

Illinois committed just six turnovers, nine less than the
Wolverines. Two of those Illinois turnovers came late in the game,
after the outcome was already decided. Illinois also had 22
assists. Its starting backcourt of Brown and Deron Williams
combined for 12 dishes and no turnovers.

The lead ballooned to 14 before the Wolverines got going late in
the first half. 6-foot-11 forward Chris Hunter buried a 3-pointer
to make it an eight-point game at the break.

The Michigan onslaught continued at the start of the second
half. Horton stroked a pair of threes to help cut the score to
39-37. But that was as close as it would get.

“We were never able to gain the lead in the
ballgame,” Amaker said. “I thought that was a big
difference.”

With 13 minutes left, Williams bounced the ball to Brown on a
3-on-2, with Horton and freshman Dion Harris back on defense. Brown
laid the ball in and drew contact from Harris to draw a free throw,
making it an eight-point game again.

With the contest slipping away, center Courtney Sims was called
for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, as he was trying to
follow up a missed layup by Horton. Instead of getting the
Wolverines within seven, the play led to an Illinois free throw and
a 3-pointer by Luther Head on the ensuing possession, giving the
Fighting Illini a 64-51 edge.

Horton led the Wolverines with 16 points on Saturday. The
sophomore found his rhythm from downtown, shooting 4-of-7 from
behind the arc. Illinois’ Brown led all scorers with 21
points on the afternoon.

Michigan hasn’t played in the postseason since the 1999-00
season, when the team dropped a 10-point decision to Notre Dame in
the NIT.

“I think any type of postseason symbolizes success for
your team,” Michigan’s Bernard Robinson said.
“And I think if you’re able to play in the NIT,
that’s also an honor.”

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