Western Illinois falls to No. 17 Michigan 59-55
Ceola Clark III was impressive in his first game in nearly a year, though his return has not cured the injury bug for Western Illinois.
Clark scored 21 points, helping the Leathernecks keep it close in a 59-55 loss at No. 17 Michigan on Thursday night. A toe injury limited him to six games last season, but the only health troubles Clark experienced against the Wolverines came in the form of leg cramps that sidelined him only briefly in the second half.
Guard Billy Molinari wasn't as fortunate. The son of coach Jim Molinari went down late in the game with what looked to be a severe knee injury.
''That's really hard right now, because it looks like he tore his ACL,'' Jim Molinari said. ''He redshirted his first year, and then he missed all of last season, so it is very emotional for us right now.''
Billy Molinari played in the opener in 2010-11 before a season-ending foot injury.
Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 16 points and Trey Burke added 14 for Michigan. It was the final tuneup for the Wolverines (3-0) before they head to Hawaii to play No. 10 Memphis on Monday.
Michigan led by five with 3:06 remaining when Western Illinois' Obi Emegano missed a free throw that would have completed a three-point play, and Hardaway scored at the other end to make it 53-46.
Jordan Morgan added 11 points for Michigan.
''We needed a game like that, to kind of wake us up a little bit,'' Morgan said. ''Not just wake us up - get used to playing in those situations where we've got to knock down free throws late, and we've got to get key stops and key baskets. We needed to feel that pressure.''
Western Illinois (0-2) lost its 15th straight game, a slide that dates to Jan. 15. Terell Parks scored 11 points Thursday.
Trailing 30-28 early in the second half, Michigan went on an 11-2 run to take the lead for good. Morgan capped the stretch with an impressive sequence in which he scored, blocked a shot, then scored another basket inside to give the Wolverines a 39-32 lead.
Michigan opened the season with a win over Division II Ferris State last week, then handed Towson its 21st consecutive loss. After the win over Western Illinois, it's fair to wonder how much the Wolverines have been tested, but they'll face much stiffer competition soon enough.
Western Illinois gave Michigan all it could handle for most of this game. The Leathernecks shot 6 of 9 from 3-point range in the first half and entered halftime tied at 28. Despite the run early in the second by the Wolverines, Western Illinois trailed by only four and had the ball when Hardaway drew a charging foul with 8:13 to play.
Morgan's layup off an offensive rebound made it 48-42, and Parks fouled out with 6:30 remaining, hurting Western Illinois' chances. Hardaway made a 3-pointer to push the lead to nine, and the Leathernecks called a timeout with 5:01 left.
The teams finished with a combined 38 fouls after committing only 11 in the first half.
Western Illinois was dealt another blow when Clark went down with cramping in his right leg with 4:05 remaining. He came back with 2:37 to play.
''It was so frustrating, because we could not get that cramp out of my leg,'' Clark said. ''I wanted to be back on the floor, and I finally decided that I was going to have to tough it out and go back out there. If it got any worse, I was just going to keep playing as long as I could.''
Billy Molinari lost the ball when he fell to the floor with his injury at the 2:09 mark.
Michigan trailed 10-7 before going on an 11-0 run during the first half. Clark answered with two 3-pointers - sandwiched around another shot from beyond the arc by Tommie Tyler - to pull the Leathernecks even at 19.