Michigan 66, Illinois 57
ANN ARBOR -- John Groce's team has found consistency, but far from the right kind with Illinois (12-8) falling to Michigan on the road 66-57 on Saturday to drop to 2-5 in Big Ten play with a three-game losing streak.
The Illini are a consistently bad basketball team on the road. Four chances away from Champaign to start Big Ten play and four losses.
Once again, Illinois was down by double digits at the half on the road. Michigan took a 34-24 lead into the locker room, as they were led by a surge from redshirt sophomore D.J. Wilson -- who led all scorers on the game with 19 points.
Meanwhile, Illinois' offense could not execute consistently against one of the worst major-college defenses in the country. The Illini shot 45.8 percent from the field in the first half, but they had nine turnovers and went 0-of-5 from deep. The final three-point attempt of the half was a heave by Jaylon Tate at the buzzer. Ugly.
And it didn't get better to start the second half. Illinois gave the ball away on four of their first eight possessions -- leading to a 9-0 run for Michigan to make it 43-26 with 15:59 left. The Wolverines got their lead up to 19 after their next possession.
The Illini didn't cut it to under double digits until four seconds were left on the clock. But don't let the fake rally fool you. Illinois trailed by 10-plus for 18 minutes in the second half.
Malcolm Hill was Illinois' only double-digit scorer with 16 points. The Illini shot 45.8 percent from the field on the game and went 2-of-12 from three. They also had 17 turnovers.
Illinois is 11-29 on the road in the Big Ten under Groce. They are 11-26 in January. Trends aren't changing, and neither are opinions.
What it means
No answers. That's what Groce has right now. And with that, Illini athletic director Josh Whitman is forced to get closer and closer to finding his. Illinois is a bottom-level team in the Big Ten. They aren't even competitive on the road. And this is a veteran team. A healthy team. And yet, one that doesn't look much better than last year's. At least, not to the point of relevance. And this fan base is starved for relevance. It deserves that. Saturday's loss was more of the same results. More heat under Groce's scalding-hot seat. And less opportunity for his team to change it.
What went right
Illini got 20 points in the paint in the first half on 19 shots inside the arc. They had 36 points in the paint on the game.
Illinois didn't get killed out of the gates this time on the road. They waited a little while.
What went wrong
Turnovers. Illinois finished with 17 turnovers -- the same amount they had at Maryland in an ugly Big Ten opener. They had six in the first 11 minutes (35 percent of their possessions). The Illini had nine in the first half and four in the first eight possessions out of halftime.
Illinois scored 24 points in the first half against one of the worst major-college defenses in the country. They scored 10 points in the first five minutes and 31 seconds. They later had a stretch with just one bucket in nearly nine minutes. One of those terrible stretches we've become accustomed to seeing from the Illini at some point of every road game.
Not enough stops.The Wolverines didn't exactly light it up, and they didn't need to. But the Illini gave them a handful of easy buckets. And when you're going to score under 60 points, you need stops. A lot of them.
Offensive rebounds. Michigan grabbed 10 offensive boards, which led to 14 second-chance points. The Wolverines had just 17 total rebounds in the first meeting.
Supporting cast is weak. Groce has mentioned 'strength in numbers' plenty this season. But while he has depth as it relates to bodies, he doesn't have it right now when it comes to production. Tracy Abrams had just two points in 23 minutes. He is 1-of-21 from three in Big Ten play. Jalen Coleman-Lands had two points. He hasn't taken the strides that have been expected of him this season. Illinois has Hill and Maverick Morgan (6 points). What else can they consistently count on?
Illinois returns home to take on Iowa (11-9, 3-4) on Wednesday. The Hawkeyes are 0-3 away from home in Big Ten play, and they're on a two-game losing streak. They lost 84-76 against Maryland on Thursday in Iowa City. Illinois upset the Hawkeyes 68-66 at the Big Ten tournament last season, but Groce is just 2-4 against them during his tenure. Iowa sports the top scorer in the Big Ten in Peter Jok, who averages 21.6 points per game. They also have a solid freshmen corp that can be dangerous but inconsistent as well.