Whether it be starting the game on a 14-2 run or ending the first half burying Illinois with a 23-4 barrage, the Wolverines, with absolutely nothing to lose here in the Windy City, once again showed immense resilience and effort for John Beilein.
But perhaps more importantly for this very young, maturing Michigan team, it was yet another step in the right direction nearing the end of a very trying season.
“They are just all in, how can we get better,” Beilein said afterward. “You look at those freshmen, we couldn't think about putting them in the game earlier in the year. They just were not ready defensively, and every day the scout team was beating them and beating them and they were missing switches and missing assignments, and every day they've gotten better.
“We had no other choice. It's really good because they're such great kids from great families, they deserve this because it has been difficult. They've seen more losses with Michigan than we've seen in a long time. I'm really proud of them.”
Michigan had no other choice on several fronts.
When the Wolverines roster was fleeced following three early departures to the NBA draft a year ago, Michigan looked elsewhere and came up with Muhammad-Ali Abdur Rahkman and Aubrey Dawkins.
Against Illinois, the suddenly impactful and readily dependable freshmen combined for 33-points, 11 rebounds and just two turnovers.
While their growth patterns seem to have synced up nicely for Michigan, both are taking different approaches to the game.
“I think a lot of it's just been understanding what the situation is and knowing what we need to step-up,” Dawkins said. “And with our aggressiveness, our focus in the game, from the scouting reports, everything, we need to step up and focus on what we're working on.”
“Studying the game to know what's going on in the game, things like that,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “Strategy against us is definitely a big part of our growth, and we just want to continue to be growing.”
Michigan (16-15, 8-10) is hoping to have another day of growth through victory when the Wolverines challenge Wisconsin (28-3, 16-2) Friday in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
A herculean task for certain, but one this Michigan team believes is possible.
“We've been seeing some things in practice over the last couple of weeks that showed some growth, even though we may not have seen that in a couple of our losses at the end of this year,” Beilein said. “Every day these kids are embracing the growth mindset we've tried to have.”