Illinois coach Bruce Weber acknowledged the nature of the game afterward.
"It was the ugliest pretty win we've had in a long time."
Both teams behaved sluggishly and struggled throughout. The shooting was colder than the Michigan night air. From the start, the Wolverines kept jacking up threes and missing one after another. They were only 2 of their first 16 from the field, and yet the Illini weren't much better.
The Illini grabbed an 11 point lead when D.J. Richardson hit two straight threes and Mike Davis deposited a foul shot to make it 24-13, but they could never get on a roll to put UM away. Michigan was just 6-30 and 4-17 from three, but they trailed by just 26-18 at the half.
The Wolverines quickly gained a 27-26 lead by scoring the first 9 points of the second half. But the Illini came right back to retake a lead they would never relinquish. A Demetri McCamey three made it 39-33. Brandon Paul got it up to a nine point advantage with one of two free throws, and the Illini hung on from there.
ESPN no doubt regretted its decision to carry the game as numerous viewers sought frantically for a channel that could keep them awake. Even some Illini fans fought off the sandman as miss followed miss and mistake followed mistake. Still, Weber found things to praise.
"We played with bounce. We outrebounded them by 15. It was also about determination. We did all the little things that made a difference. There were a lot of loose ball plays, a lot of plays we outhustled them. We grinded it out."
Weber wanted to say the better team won, and it probably did. But he couldn't state with certainty proof of superior play by his team.
"Sometimes balls bounce your way, sometimes they don't. The ball bounced our way, and we got the rebounds. I guess some days it goes your way, and some days it doesn't."
Actually, Weber was not surprised his team had trouble running offense.
"I knew we'd have trouble scoring. They switched everything, and we're not used to it. We didn't have time to prepare."
McCamey had only four assists on the night, half his average. But he still almost registered a double-double. He finished with 14 points and 9 rebounds. Several of the boards came off long caroms from missed threes, but they all helped the cause.
Davis had his second straight good game after a midseason slump.
"Last week a light went on for him, and he's playing much more confident," Weber acknowledged. "Tonight another double-double. You wish he would have done it ahead of time, but at least he's playing at the right time."
Davis ended with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Mike Tisdale almost matched him, grabbing 11 rebounds to go with 9 points. Richardson added 8 points, and Paul scored five including a big putback in the second half. For the game, the Illini shot a miserable 37% from the field and 23.5% from three.
However, Michigan was a pathetic 25% from the field and hit only 6-31 threes. The Wolverines weren't close on most of their misses, star Manny Harris misfiring on three point-blank drives in the second half. Weber wanted to credit his defense, and Richardson played admirably on Harris most of the time, but UM missed many open looks.
"That's pretty good defense, I guess. I don't know. We never let them get in rhythm except that one stretch where they got some transition, some easy baskets. After that, we did a really good job defending."
Harris finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Star DeShawn Sims missed 9 of 12 shots. He ended with just 7 points while pulling down 13 boards. Zach Novak hit four of Michigan's 6 threes.
The bottom line is that Illinois is now 18-10, 10-5 in the Big 10 with a Saturday afternoon game coming up against Minnesota. Weber found reason to be happy about the victory.
"Right now we're 2-1 against the "M's" and can get a third against Minnesota Saturday. I told them ahead of time if we can be 3-1 against the "M's" and 4-0 against the "I's," we're doing pretty good."