Illini Can't Handle Horton

The Illini headed to Michigan on Tuesday night with the Big Ten Championship within their reach, all they needed to do was win their last four games, and they could do no worse than tie for the conference title. Michigan, especially Daniel Horton had different ideas for the Illini as he scored a career-high 39 points to lead Michigan to a 72-64 victory over the Fighting Illini. James Augustine recorded another double double with 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Dee Brown contributed 20.

Lucky Thirteen. It appears Tommy Amaker's lucky number as it relates to the Illini is thirteen. Amaker defeated Illinois for the first time in his head coaching career on Tuesday night in his thirteenth game against the Illini (ten previous while he was at Michigan, and two while he was at Seton Hall). Daniel Horton made thirteen of his twenty shots en route to his career-high thirty-nine points.

While thirteen was a lucky number for Tommy Amaker and his Michigan Wolverines, it was just as unlucky for the Fighting Illini. Up until Tuesday night's game against Michigan, James Augustine and Dee Brown had only lost thirteen games in Big Ten Conference play over their four year career and Bruce Weber had only lost thirteen games in his just under three year tenure as Illinois' Head Coach. Now, both of those totals sit at fourteen, with a third straight Big Ten Championship a long shot.

Over the course of the 2005-2006 season, the Illini have been a team that prides itself on their defense. They had only allowed one team (Michigan) to score more than seventy points against them, and they won that game in Champaign. But heading into Tuesday night's game, the opposition seems to have found a flaw in the Illini defense, the three point line.

Like Penn State, Ohio State, and Northwestern before them, Michigan dined on the three point line to score over the Illini defense. In their last five games, including tonight, Illinois has allowed their opposition to shoot 43-for-105 from behind the three point arc, and not surprisingly the Illini have found themselves looking up at their opponent as the time expired in three of the last five games.

Why has the opposition been shooting so well over these last five games? The Illini defensive pressure is not where it had been earlier in the season. Illinois is not calling out the extra screens, they are not making the extra effort to get through screens, and they are just not bumping cutters like they did just a month ago. On the perimeter, the Illini are switching more defensively, something you rarely saw in the first two years of the Weber regime, and thus defensive assignments are getting lost, and the offense has shots at wide open threes. More often than not, good shooters like Daniel Horton and Je'Kel Foster will knock down these shots, and the Illini are reeling because of it.

On Tuesday night, it was Daniel Horton. He was able to score from all over: the free throw line, behind the three point line, and with the dribble drive. In the second half he scored 25 of his game-high 39, and it seems like he was playing without defenders in front of him. Not Dee Brown. Not Chester Frazier. Not Illini defensive stopped Brian Randle. It did not matter who was guarding Horton, he was scoring, and carrying his Wolverines to victory over the eighth-ranked Fighting Illini.

At the start of the game, it looked like the Illini learned from their forty points in the paint against the Indiana Hoosiers, and were going inside early. The Illini used their inside bulk to build up a 34-30 lead heading into halftime, mainly on the back of James Augustine. But heading into the break, there was already a sign of what was to come in the second half. Michigan had yet to go to the free throw line in the game, and with just under a minute left on the clock Chester Frazier fouled Jerret Smith on a three point shot. It was defensive lapses like this that would contribute to Daniel Horton and the rest of the Wolverines finding enough open shots to score 42 points in the second half against the Illini.

Offensive Efficiency: 97.03
Defensive Efficiency: 109.16
Offensive Rebounding Percentage: 29.63%
Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 70.83%

The second half started just the way the Fighting Illini wanted it to. The Illini jumped out to a 40-33 lead with 18:00 minutes left in the game. This is when things came unraveled for the Illini, and the Wolverines went on a quick barrage of three pointers while the Illini turned the ball over and missed layups. Let's look at the anatomy of a run and how Michigan used three point shooting and mistakes from the Fighting Illini to turn what looked like a grave situation into momentum.

THE PHANTOM FOUL
There was a little controversy from a bad call by Mike Krzyzewski's brother Mike Sanzere at the end of the game. The Illini were only down two points with 45.7 seconds left in the game. They were pressing the Wolverines to try and force a turnover. Brian Randle and Chester Frazier were able to get a quick trap on Daniel Horton in the coffin corner right next to the Illinois bench. The Michigan senior point guard had no where to go, and with just one time out left he seemed reluctant to use it. Brian Randle reached in and grabbed all ball. Sanzere's whistle blew, and the entire Illini bench expected a jump ball call.

Nope, Sanzere called Brian Randle's fifth foul. For the ensuing thirty seconds, Weber did his best Gene Keady impersonation, and Tracy Webster and Jay Price had to hold Weber back from picking up a technical foul.

If Sanzere had called a jump ball, it still would have been Michigan's ball to inbound underneath their own basket, but Brian Randle would have been on the floor playing defense. That being said, Michigan did not have any problems inbounding the basketball on ensuing possessions underneath their basket, as Daniel Horton was able to break right to the basketball getting past Chester Frazier.

RANDOM NOTES
  • If you did not know what James Augustine's father looked like before tonight, I am pretty sure you do now. He was almost on ESPN as much as Tyler Hansbrough's "mother" when Illinois defeated North Carolina in the Big Ten / ACC Challenge.
  • The worst statistic of the night, was not the final score of the game. It was the Illini bench going scoreless in 33 minutes of game time. Not only did they go scoreless, but combined Chester Frazier, Marcus Arnold, Warren Carter, and Jamar Smith only attempted five shots, pulled down two rebounds, and committed eight fouls.



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