Michigan tops Illinois 71-58
Wolverines trail Indiana by two games
The Big Ten championship race will stay a crowded affair, if the Michigan Wolverines have any say in things.
After losing three of their previous five games to fall to third place in the conference, No. 7 ranked Michigan stayed within range of the Big Ten lead by taking down Illinois 71-58 Sunday.
The Wolverines trail first-place Indiana by two games with four left to play.
"Our approach was to get back to who we are, and we're a team where everybody has to fill their role," Michigan coach John Beilein said about his team regaining its swagger after recent struggles.
Michigan (23-4, 10-4 Big Ten) was led by point guard Trey Burke with 26 points and eight assists, while Tim Hardaway Jr. added 13 and Glenn Robinson III scored 10. The Wolverines trailed most of the first half and were down 31-28 at the break, but they outscored the Illini 43-27 the rest of the way.
"I think we have a lot of confidence in our defense, and once we straightened a few things out, our defense was terrific in the second half," Beilein said.
Illinois' Brandon Paul, fourth in the Big Ten at 16.4 point per game, did not attempt a shot against Michigan's enhanced defense in the second half and finished with 10 points. D.J. Richardson and Tracy Abrams each added 10 for the Illini (20-9, 7-8).
"In that second half, we tried to do a better job of bringing energy to our defense," Michigan junior forward Jordan Morgan said. "When we do that, it just picks the rest of the team up."
A Burke 3-pointer gave Michigan a 37-34 lead early in the final half, and a Robinson dunk after a steal, followed by a pair of free throws from Burke, stretched the advantage to 43-34 with just under 15 minutes left.
"It was a good run and I thought it gave us the type of momentum that we needed," Burke said.
That was part of a 15-3 spurt the Wolverines used to take command, led by Burke, who became just the seventh sophomore in Michigan history to pass the 1,000-point mark.
"They were smarter and tougher than us in the second half," Illinois coach John Groce said, "and that was the difference in the game."
The Illini made a final push with about 8 minutes to play, drawing within 51-47 on a triple from Tyler Griffey, but Michigan answered quickly with 3-pointers from Burke and Caris LeVert and started to pull away.
"They beat us to loose balls, and I thought they screened better," Groce said. "They had more of a physical disposition than we had in the second half and in this league, that's a recipe for bad stuff."
The Michigan lead stretched to 64-49 on a Burke jumper with just under 4 minutes left, and the Wolverines closed out the win at the foul line, with Burke hitting five free throws in the final minute and a half. Morgan said the win puts the Wolverines back on stride for a strong finish to the regular season.
"It was hard going through that stretch that we've just been through, so it was vital that we get back to playing our way," Morgan said.
The Illini, who own three wins over top 10 teams this season, had opened the game with a quick run ignited by 3-pointers. Illinois was on top 13-5 just 5 minutes in before the Wolverines started to find their stride.
A Burke steal and a fastbreak basket at the 13:35 mark of the half pulled Michigan within four, and when Burke found Jon Horford open inside for a dunk that cut it to 13-11.
Paul, fourth in the Big Ten in scoring, led the Illini on a run that pushed the lead back out to eight with under 9 minutes left in the half. Nnanna Egwu's tip-in made it 21-13.
Michigan used an 8-0 run to tie the game with just under 6 minutes to play in the half -- the first tie since the game's opening moments. Robinson dunked on the break after taking a feed from Hardaway.
Michigan's first lead of the opening half came with 3:30 left on a Hardaway layup.
Notes: Burke joined Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Phil Hubbard, Mike McGee, Louis Bullock and Manny Harris as the only sophomores in Michigan history to reach the 1,000 points milestone. ... Beginning with the trip to Ann Arbor, Illinois plays three of its last four Big Ten games on the road. ... Michigan freshman 3-point specialist Nik Stauskas, who averages better than 12 points per game, missed all five shots he took and failed to score for just the second time this season. ... Illinois had eight offensive rebounds in the first half, and none in the second half.
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