John Beilein, stuck between riding his proven playmakers and needing some youngsters to develop, has patiently waited to see which of the five rookies receiving playing time would step up at a critical juncture.
It happened in the Big 10 opener against the Illini, as the Wolverines erased a 13-point deficit midway through the second half and watched Aubrey Dawkins and Ricky Doyle lead the way to a 73-65 victory in overtime.
With Jim Harbaugh in attendance and introduced at halftime as the Wolverines' new football coach, both Doyle and Dawkins played their best basketball in a Michigan uniform.
Dawkins stole the show, scoring 17 of his game-high 20 points after halftime. Dawkins' previous career-high was five points.
And Doyle, who finished with 13 points, closed out regulation with seven consecutive points, including a huge free throw that knotted the score at 59 and sent the game to overtime.
"One of the most gratifying things is, many of the baskets in the last 10 minutes of the game were scored by Ricky and Aubrey," Beilein said. "It was big to have the freshman be able to say, `Oh, this is what it feels like.' . It's good for Aubrey, but it's also good for the other young guys, like (Kam Chatman) and (Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman). They see that and know what it's like."
LeVert turned in his usual solid effort with 17 points, and Irvin, who finished with 13 points, nailed a dagger of a 3-pointer with three minutes to play in overtime and the Wolverines (8-5, 1-0 Big Ten) never gave up the lead again.
Malcolm Hill scored 19 as the only player to finish in double digits for Illinois (10-4, 0-1). Rayvonte Rice chipped in eight points, 11 rebounds and six assists, and both Jaylon Tate and Aaron Cosby came off the bench to score seven points.
"Obviously, we're disappointed," Illinois coach John Groce said. "We led for most of the game . and I thought the first 25 minutes, it was the best we had played.
"Late, I thought we got a little stagnant offensively. But at the end of the day, I look at the stat sheet, and it's exactly what I expect or hope for.. Guys were aggressive, they played well. They probably feel like, if they were honest, one got snatched away from them. But that happens in Big Ten play."
Michigan's recent offensive woes continued against the Illini, heading into halftime with just 26 points on 34.4 percent shooting.
It marked the fifth time in the last seven games that Michigan failed to reach the 30-point plateau in the first half -- a stretch that includes five losses.
The Illinois offense didn't light up the scoreboard, either, but used a 15-6 run, spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, to build a comfortable lead.
Michigan, which hit just 2 of 10 3-point attempts in the first half, shook off the slow start and relied on the deep ball to claw its way back in the game.
The Wolverines shot 53.3 from 3-point range in the final 25 minutes, hitting 8 of 18 treys. Dawkins drilled all five of his 3-point attempts after halftime. He had attempted just 11 career triples before Tuesday.
"It was very fun," Dawkins said. "It's exciting. I came in and played my game. The team and my coaches had confidence in me. I felt relief when that first one went down. It gave me confidence to keep shooting."
As Illinois focused its defensive efforts on the 3-point stripe, Doyle was suddenly wide open to help the Wolverines force overtime, notching three dunks and a free throw.
The Wolverines outscored Illinois 14-6 in extra time to seal the win.
Michigan: The Wolverines won their fourth consecutive Big Ten opener since a to Purdue in 2010. ... In its first eight games of the season, Michigan shot 42.6 percent from 3-point range. In the last five, which has included four losses, Michigan is shooting 27 percent.
Illinois: It was just the second true road game of the season for Illinois. The Illini also lost at Miami, 70-61, on Dec. 2 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. ... John Groce is now 0-5 all-time vs. Michigan as Illinois' head coach. He did record a win over the Wolverines in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament while the coach at Ohio. ... The two teams meet again in Champaign, Ill. on Feb. 12.
JUMPING OFF POINT?
This time last year, the Wolverines sat at 6-4 and some fans and prognosticators wondered whether they would even earn an invite to the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan promptly found its footing, won the Big Ten regular-season title and advanced to its second straight Elite Eight.
Although the Wolverines have struggled this season, no one is hitting the panic button just yet.
"We have a young team, just like we did last year," LeVert said. "Things are starting to click a little bit for our young guys. Things are starting to get easier."
A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING
Rice leads the Illini in points (17.7 per game), rebounds (6.5) and steals (1.9) -- and he can also dish out assists.
Although he had a slow scoring night, the senior guard was still everywhere for Illinois, with eight points, 11 boards and six assists.
"Ray was really unselfish," Groce said. "Other than making shots, Ray had a heck of a game. . He was terrific defensively, and that's what makes him so special. Ray is a high-level guy on defense, rebounding and on offense."
Michigan travels to Purdue on Saturday.
Illinois is at No. 20 Ohio State on Saturday.