A near capacity crowd braved frigid January conditions to give Illinois a needed energy boost. Reversing a 10 point loss in Ann Arbor, the Illini learned their lessons and stifled the Michigan attack with a swarming defensive effort. The Illini impressed Michigan coach John Beilein.
"They have a really good team. They can pass it if you zone them, they play hard, they have guys who can shoot it, defense, that's a really good team.
"We shot the ball well in the first half, but if you don't make guard shots against them, with their length, their experience and great defense, it's tough to win. We missed open shots, and you don't get many open shots against them.
"They always have good defensive teams, but I thought their defense was even better tonight."
The Illini trailed at the half for the first time this year, 31-30. Michigan began the game with an air of extreme confidence, and they proceeded to attack Illinois at every turn. The Wolverines outquicked the Illini for loose balls and used penetration effectively. Their quickness allowed then to score 9 second chance points. The Illini had none.
The second half was a different story, and it reminded Illinois coach Bruce Weber of the first meeting.
"It was almost the exact game as the one up there, but in reverse. We had a one point lead up there at the half, and then we struggled scoring the second half. They kind of just picked us apart."
Illinois went on a 10-1 run to turn a close game into a 52-42 advantage. They later scored 8 straight points to put the game out of reach. It helped that the Illini shot 52.4% in the second half while the Wolverines sunk to 20.7%. Michigan star Manny Harris scored 20 points, but no other Wolverine was in double figures.
Mike Tisdale led the Illini with 24 points, 18 in the second half. He scored on jumpers, hooks, layups including one brilliant scoop shot, and he made his first 3-pointer on the season. Illinois took advantage of Tisdale's height and reach advantage to feed him passes in scoring areas. Typically, Big Mike shared the credit.
"Coach told me at halftime I could get inside. Demetri and the rest of the guards did a good job. They used my height by throwing it up high and letting me catch and finish. So I credit the guards."
Demetri McCamey dominated the first half with 15 points but scored only two more as he was happy to feed the hot hand in the second stanza.
"When my team is struggling, I look to score. If not, I told Tis in the locker room, 'The second half, I'm gonna get you the ball big fella. Their tallest player is 6'-6" and you're 7 foot. Come on. I'm gonna get you the ball, so just finish.'"
Beilein was reminded of his former West Virginia star 7-footer Kevin Pittsnogle when watching Tisdale drain his first three point shot of the season.
"We're playing small, and we're not real big in the center. He's just tough to stop. I knew he could shoot from 15 feet. I didn't know he was gonna do a Pittsnogle on us. If he can do that, that's gonna be tough to stop."
Weber was understandably pleased with Tisdale's point production, but his defense on Michigan star DeShawn Sims may have been even more important.
"Tisdale had the points, but I thought his defense was much better. It allowed us to keep him in the game. He got so down and frustrated up at Michigan, hanging his head. He couldn't guard Sims, he couldn't guard (Zach) Gibson, he couldn't guard anybody."
Mike realized the importance of good defense on Sims and came through when needed.
"Last game, I kind of stayed back off him. I was trying to make him a shooter, and obviously he did that. This game, I really pushed up on him, tried to control him. Taking Sims out of the game affects the rest of their team. It makes the other guys step up into a zone they're not used to being in."
Trent Meacham joined Tisdale and McCamey in double figures with 11 points. His outside shooting was off, but he added 6 of 7 free throws, including five down the stretch when Michigan was struggling to get back into the game.
Calvin Brock provided good energy off the bench, and so did Jeffrey Jordan. Chester Frazier was uncharacteristically plagued by turnovers, but his 13 points on the Matto Play Hard Chart led his team. Mike Davis had only 2 points, but he pulled down 7 rebounds and had 2 assists.
The 15-2 Illini now travel to league powerhouse Michigan State for a Saturday afternoon contest. An upset there could finally place Illinois in the Top 25 for the first time this season.