So when the Michigan Wolverines took the lead at 70-69 with 4:01 left in the game, it was time for the Illini seniors to step in and make sure that their younger teammates didn't get a taste of walking off of their home court with a mark in the right-hand column. Augustine sank two free throws and made a layup, and preseason All-American Brown made an up-and-under basket while drawing a foul, and sank 2 free throws with .1 seconds left to help salt away a 79-74 Illini victory. The key moment in the comeback was provided by junior Warren Carter, who calmly nailed 2 free throws with 17 seconds left in the game and the Illini clinging to a 75-74 lead. "I just went through my motions, went through my rotations…I didn't really concentrate on…what it all means, you just want to concentrate on the two shots," said Carter, who went 4-4 from the line for the night.
Brown, who made four of five three-pointers in the second half, finished with a team-leading 26 points, and Augustine added 23. No other Illini broke double figures.After struggling from the foul line for the majority of the year, the Illini redeemed themselves by hitting 83% of their attempts from the charity stripe against Michigan, led by Brown, who made 9-10, and Augustine added 5-6 to go with Carter's perfect night.
The Illini offense showed signs of coming back to life after the abysmal performance in Iowa City last week. The Illini shot only 42% for the game, but hit 39% from the beyond the 3-point line, and the Illini dished out 13 assists on 25 made baskets. Normally, the Illini offense clicking at home results in a double-digit win, but for the first time all year, the defense was the culprit in keeping the game close. The Illini allowed the Wolverines to shoot 61% from the field in the second half, and 63% from behind the arc. The Illini also committed 12 fouls in the second half, and the Wolverines responded by shooting 87% from the charity stripe. The poor defense by the Illini allowed the Wolverines to erase an 11 point Illinois halftime lead.
"We didn't play as well as we wanted to today, both defensively and offensively," said Brown. "We probably looked good offensively, but we're not doing things we need to do. But, we'll take the win. The Big 10 is a grind." "Our league is deep…8-9 teams are good, so every night you've got to come out and play good basketball." "They were in the game for a reason," added Augustine. "You gotta go back and watch the film…we're gonna look awful on the film. That's how every game is. You feel like you played well during the game, then you go watch the film, and it's about an hour long, and Coach is stopping it every 10 seconds. The main key is just going back, seeing what you did wrong, and trying to correct it. If we play like this (at Indiana Tuesday night), we're gonna get beat."
The Wolverines were led by Daniel Horton, who exploded in the second half and finished with 19 points, after having only 2 at the break. Courtney Sims had 16 for Michigan, and Dion Harris added 10. "I thought we were able to stir the pot a little bit, if you will, in the second half," said Michigan coach Tommy Amaker. "We were a little bit more patient on the offensive end, and we were rewarded for our patience at times. We were able to get some drives and open the floor a little bit, and it helped us getting to the foul line, as well."
"The one thing I talked to the kids about after Michigan State is that I thought it was fool's gold…we just kinda sat there and watched Dee and hoped that things would….I thought we were better today," said Illinois coach Bruce Weber. "Offensively, we got more people involved. Obviously, James was much better." "We didn't get back on ‘D' like we should have. Some of it was mental…a guy misses a shot, don't run back…think they get fouls, don't run back….they're very talented. To their credit, they took it to us. I'm just happy we won."
The Illini outrebounded Michigan 35-31, led by James Augustine with 9, and Shaun Pruitt and Brian Randle with 6 each. Dee Brown led the team with 5 assists, and Randle and Rich McBride added 3 each. Augustine and Randle each had 2 blocks.
Coach Weber commented on having Warren Carter on the foul line with the game on the line: "Warren's free throws were clutch." "Is he the guy I'd want on the line with the game on the line? (laughs) There are probably 5-6 guys I'd rather have on the line, but…"
Freshman Chester Frazier did not play for disciplinary reasons. When asked about the situation, Coach Weber would not comment other than saying "Chester didn't take care of some things." He would not comment further.
Game News and Notes:
1) The defensive lapses were evident from the opening tap. Michigan got 4 layups in their 4 opening possessions.
2) The 31 game winning streak at Assembly Hall ties the school record for the longest homecourt winning streak.
3) The Illini are 88-3 in Assembly Hall since the 1999-2000 season.
4) James Augustine moved up to 26th on the all-time Illini scoring list, passing Skip Thoren, Nick Anderson, and Roger Powell.
5) Dee Brown surpassed the 1600 point mark for his career tonight, becoming only the 7th player in Illini history to reach that mark.
6) Brown and Augustine scored all of Illinois' points from the 10:45 mark of the 2nd half to until there were 17.3 seconds left.