It was a textbook win for Beilein's style of play. Michigan hit 8 of 18 threes in the first half and continued to pop them at a 40.7% pace for the game. With Illinois fearing the three late in the game, the Wolverines spread out and dribble penetrated for layups and foul shots. Illinois coach Bruce Weber agreed this was the difference in the game.
"They got the crowd behind them, they have a lot of different weapons, they spread you. And when they make threes like they did in the first half, it's pretty tough to defend. We did a better job guarding the three in the second half, but then we gave up too many layups. That can't happen."
Illinois shot 59% in the first half with its patented midrange game and outstanding team play. But it only led by one, 39-38. In the end, Illinois' fear of the three and inability to keep its poise down the stretch was its undoing.
"You get all those threes, and now you start worrying and spread your defense," Weber explains. "We told them at halftime you've got to have dribble containment. We got tired down the stretch.
"We executed so well on defense at Purdue. And this time we didn't talk, we didn't contain the dribble. We gave up too many easy layups, and then we had to make jumpers. We didn't make them when it came down to it. We couldn't keep up with them."
Coach Beilein experienced the opposite phenomena as his charges picked it up in the second half. But he still had high praise for the Illini.
"They're so efficient in what they do. Their assist numbers are unbelieveable for them. They have all those guys who can pass, and they sort of picked us apart a little bit. But we made some adjustments, the kids did. We talked a little bit more, we got after them a little bit more."
Early on, it appeared the Illini would salt away their second straight road victory over a ranked team. After Michigan opened with a 16-9 spurt, the Illini responded with 11 straight points to go up 20-16. They extended their lead to 29-23 and maintained an advantage the rest of the half. When UM came back to tie the score at 31, Illinois countered with four straight. A Zach Novak three closed the half with Illinois up a point.
Calvin Brock earned a second half start by scoring 11 points and grabbing four rebounds to give the Illini some needed energy in the first stanza. Demetri McCamey supported him with six points and 9 assists, several of the latter on open backdoor layups.
Early in the second half, the Illini appeared capable of maintaining their advantage as they went up 46-40. But the Wolverines finally went ahead on a three by Laval Lucas-Perry to make it 48-46 Michigan. Illinois turnovers against the Michigan zone allowed them to keep their lead before Brock and Chester Frazier made shots to put the Illini back in front.
The last tie was 62-62 when Frazier got called for his fourth foul at the 5:24 mark. Michigan began to pull away from there and ended with a 12-2 run. Penetration layups by Lucas-Perry and 6'-10" Zach Gibson exposed Illinois defensive weaknesses. Kelvin Grady did the same a little later to make the score 70-64, and four UM free throws concluded the scoring.
Illinois was only 11 for 33 shooting in the second half, ending with a 45% shooting percentage compared with Michigan's 49%. The Illini got to the line for only three free throws, making 2, compared with 11 of 14 for UM. Illinois had 5 more assists and 3 more rebounds but couldn't counter the Wolverines' shooting prowess.
Weber described in detail the second half breakdowns that led to the loss.
"When we've been winning, it's because we have good team defense and we play hard. We didn't match their intensity today. We lose on the Matto (play hard chart). It's the second time all year we lose on the Matto and we lose the game.
"Our guys didn't talk. I wrote on the board about hard work and hustle. I talked about being hungry. We had that against Purdue and Missouri. But now we're catching them after a tough loss at home, and they're gonna be extra motivated. So you have to match it. We did for awhile, but we couldn't finish it.
"The second thing I wrote on the board was being aware and talking. You have to have the awareness to know what defense they're in and because they spread you and do different things. After awareness, be aggressive. If somebody's late or just stuck, take a stand and make them play.
"We had our chances. We had the lead with 6-7 minutes left. We missed shots. I thought it was a tough call on (Mike) Tisdale on a rebound, and they made a bucket. But we've got to get to the free throw line, that's the other thing.
"To Michigan's credit, they out-toughed us and out-executed us down the stretch. And too many easy baskets. When Zach Gibson gets 10 points...he's shooting 2 of 17 from three, he hits a three. I can take that one, but I can't take the layup. That just can't happen."
Manny Harris scored 16 points and added 5 assists and 6 rebounds for Michigan. DeShawn Sims added 13 to go with 9 rebounds. Lucas-Perry scored 13 while dishing out 5 assists. Novak added 11, Gibson 10 and Grady 9.
Brock led four Illini in double figures with 13 points while adding 7 rebounds. Alex Legion and Mike Davis added 10 each. Davis played the game with a bad case of tonsilitis. Frazier added 5 assists and 3 rebounds to go with four points while guarding Harris.
Demetri McCamey had good statistics with a double-double. He scored 11 points, handed out 10 assists and grabbed 3 rebounds while making no turnovers. But his lack of energy hurt both his offense and defensive effort near the end according to Weber.
"Demetri played a good game number wise. But his energy at the end of the game, he's still got to guard people. And that's where I talk about practicing hard every day. He had to go hard, he had 36 minutes. He couldn't finish the job. He's got to get in better shape to do everything, make baskets, make assists, and yet guard on the other end."
Weber reiterated what he has been saying all year. Perhaps the team will understand it better after a loss.
"We have to get better. We're in the wrestling locker room (at Michigan), and they have a sign saying, "Practice Like A Champion." That's the one thing our guys have got to understand. It's a long season. You've got to persevere, you've got to be persistent. You've got to keep fighting."
Illinois now has a slight break as their next game isn't until Saturday's home date with Indiana. They then entertain this same Wolverine outfit in a home rematch.
"We have them again in 10 days," Weber reminds. "We're gonna have to go back and figure out how we're gonna beat them."