Michigan 78, Illinois 68
CHAMPAIGN - Illinois is a heck of a first half team. The Illini have won the last seven first halves by an average margin of 9.7 points.
But John Groce's team has been a terrible second half team. The Illini have lost their last eight second halves by an average margin of 6.6 points.
The Illini (8-6, 0-1 Big Ten) followed script in Wednesday's Big Ten opening loss to Michigan, taking a 37-34 halftime lead. But the Wolverines (11-3, 1-0 Big Ten) outscored Illinois 25-11 to start the second half (and 44-31 on the entire half) on their way to a Big Ten road win.
Michigan sophomore forward Mark Donnal scored a career-high 26 points (his previous high was 13) and a career-high nine rebounds. Potential lottery pick Caris LeVert added a double-double: 22 points, 10 assists
Kendrick Nunn scored a team-high 23 points. Jalen Coleman-Lands added 13 points (11 in the first half).
Malcolm Hill, who had scored 20-plus in his last four games, was held to just 11 points.
After shooting 14-for-28 in the first half (including 6-for-13 from three), Illinois shot 10-for-28 in the second half (35.7 percent), including 3-for-12 from three.
Meanwhile, Michigan shot 7-for-14 from three in the second half after shooting 3-for-10 from beyond the arc in the first half.
At Illinois, Groce is now 1-7 against Michigan.
With Khalid Lewis out with the mumps, Illinois had an impressive team on the inactive list: Lewis, Tracy Abrams, Kipper Nichols, Leron Black, Mike Thorne Jr. and Mike LaTulip.
What it means
Illinois lost a winnable home game -- albeit to a better, healthier team -- and now will be underdogs in their next three games: at Ohio State, at Michigan State and vs. Purdue. An 0-4 start would put Illinois in a deep hole to start conference play (though they're familiar with those recently) and put Illinois under .500. They need to find away to put a more consistent 40 miuntes together and pull off an upset. But we've been saying that for two months.
What went right
Kendrick Nunn carried the Illini offensively and has played at an All-Big Ten level since returning from a thumb injury. Illinois took away Michigan's three-point shooting, at least for most of the first half (3-for-10). Jalen Coleman-Lands gave the Illini an offensive boost -- in the first half. Jaylon Tate was aggressive and took care of the ball in a career-high 35 minutes.
What went wrong
Where to start? Michael Finke continues to be attacked on defense, and Donnal had a career day against him as John Beilein isolated him in pick and roll situations against LeVert. Hill was too quiet for an All-Big Ten type talent. He didn't impact the game much on either end (better defensively than offensively) or the glass. The Illini were crushed on the glass (38-27) and turned it over too much (13), committing several offensive fouls. The Illini were crushed in the paint again (38 Michigan point in paint to Illini's 24). With its weaknesses in the post, Illinois has to win decisively on the perimeter to win Big Ten games. They didn't on Wednesday against a Michigan team loaded on the wings. Groce's team has not responded well to start halves. The staff must find an answer for that. The team captains (Hil, Nunn and Tate) must push their teammates more. The freshmen must respond better to the staff's second-half adjustments.
Star of the game
Mark Donnal: The 6-foot-9 Michigan sophomore made mincemeat of Finke, coming close to his first career double-double. He and LeVert ran the pick and roll to perfection.
The Illini head to Ohio State on Sunday to take on Ohio State (8-5), which opened up Big Ten play Saturday night at home against Minnesota (6-6). The Buckeyes are young and inconsistent -- they lost to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech -- but really talented (they beat Kentucky). They entered Saturday's game winners of four straight. Freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle is their engine. When he is good, Ohio State is good. Marc Loving, Keita Bates-Diop and Ja'Sean Tate give the Buckeyes a formidible group of tough, dynamic wings.