Coming off of losses to Purdue, Minnesota, and Ohio State in which the average margin of defeat was 24 points, no one really expected the Michigan Wolverines to give the #1 Illinois Fighting-Illini game. As a matter of fact, many questioned whether the Maize and Blue would come within thirty. The members of the team, however, did not share those sentiments. The coaching staff employed a game plan designed to keep them within striking distance of their high-powered opponents. Much to the surprise of many in attendance, their strategy almost worked.
Bruce Weber's club jumped out to an early 11-3 lead in the first five minutes and threatened to put the game away early, but Dion Harris emerged from his slump to keep his team in it. He nailed his first bucket at the 14:21 mark to cut the lead to six. An Illini surge increased the lead to 10 points, but Harris right there to answer with a triple to cut it back to single digits.
Joining Harris in his resurgence was an inspired Courtney Sims. The sophomore big man scored on consecutive lay-ups to cut the lead to five with 9:08 left. Deron Williams hit a three pointer to push the lead back out to eight, but the home team would not let the Illini run away.
Sherrod Harrell sank a triple and Dion Harris chimed in with two more three-pointers to key a 13-1 run to close the half and send Michigan into the locker room up 28-24. The Illini head coach credited Amaker's altered gameplan for Michigan's success.
"They changed their system," Weber said of Michigan's offense. "They delayed us. They put us on defense and they took it to the end of the shot clock and tried to keep it a low-possession game like Indiana did and other people are going to do. Again, we had a good lead at the start and maybe a little letdown. After making all the threes early we couldn't make them down the stretch. I think we scored one out of 15 possessions to end the half which isn't very good for a supposedly good offensive team. We didn't know they were going to delay. We had heard some rumors from some people that they were going to make it a possession game, and like Northwestern, they just ran a fake motion and they went down at the end with ball screens or some kind of play. I thought we did a good job early, but as the half went on, we weren't into it, we got tired, I'm not sure what happened, but we didn't adjust to their stuff and they made some threes. To their credit, they stepped up and made some plays."
The Wolverines opened up the second half with three points apiece from Harris and Sims, versus only two by the Illini to push the lead to eight (34-26) with just under 15 minutes remaining. However, the veteran Illini club maintained its composure and got right back on track.
Back to back three pointers from Dee Brown and Luther Head sliced into Michigan's lead. Chris Hunter answered with a three pointer to put the Wolverines back up by five, but Head countered with another three-pointer at the 10:59 mark. From there the Illini began to turn up the heat defensively.
Dee Brown scored the next seven Illini points on three straight steals as part of a 10-2 run that gave the visitors a 45-41 lead with six minutes left. The Wolverines finally ended a scoring drought of almost four minutes with a free throw from Harris with 5:10 left to cut the score to 45-42, but the home team would get no closer.
On the game Dion Harris led the Wolverines with 21 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, and only 1 turnover. He was joined in double figures by Courtney Sims with 15 points and Chris Hunter with 10. Dee Brown led Illinois with 16 points, 4 assists, and 4 steals. For more on the game, click the following links: Boxscore, Notes, Quotes.
After the game Amaker indicated that the effort against the Illini is something his team can build on. "It shows what we are capable of against the very best team in the country," Amaker said. "It shows our kids really followed through with everything we asked them to do and they played their hearts out. I am hoping they can see this is the brand of basketball we can play if we have our minds in it, our hearts in it and we go out and execute. That's what we did almost for the full 40 minutes."
Michigan will attempt to end its seven game losing streak Saturday versus the Michigan State Spartans.