The Michigan Wolverines entered Saturday's contest versus Illinois hoping to end a few very unfavorable trends. Bruce Weber's club came in riding not only a 30-game home winning streak, but also having defeated the Maize and Blue in the last ten meetings, dating back to a 95-91 double overtime loss in January of 2000. Once again, though, the Wolverines weren't successful in derailing the Illini train. They did, however, give the country's 6th ranked team all they could handle before the day was over.
Graham Brown got the Wolverines out of the gates quickly, scoring six of their first eight points to help tie the game by the first television timeout at the 15:48 mark. An 8-4 run after the brief break gave Michigan its biggest lead of the first half (16-12), but from there they went downhill.
James Augustine woke up his team and the capacity crowd with a rim-rattling drive and dunk to spark a 20-6 run that put the Illini up 32-22 with 4:33 left in the half. The Wolverines were able to chop the deficit down to six, but Dee Brown threw water on their comeback effort by converting three straight free throws after being fouled behind the arc. A Brian Randle dunk right before the intermission expanded that lead even more, and Illinois went into the locker room up 39-28.
Michigan shot only 35.5% in the first half on 11/31 from the field and 0/3 from three, but as has often been the case this season, they would get on track in the second. Freshman point guard Jerret Smith got his squad off on the right foot with his first of two three pointers on the afternoon to cut the lead back to single digits. Daniel Horton kept the ball rolling with and-1 to start a 5-0 run the slice the lead to 41-36 with 17:22 remaining.
Illinois kept countering the Wolverines attack, but Maize and Blue just kept coming. After the Illini increased their advantage back to nine points, Michigan slashed it right back to five moments later. Brent Petway came off the bench to help the Wolverines eat into the lead even more, scoring six straight points (four of which came on dunks) to get within a single basket (53-51) with just under 11 minutes to go.. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, that's when Dee Brown caught fire.
The Illini's diminutive lead guard converted two consecutive three point baskets, and four over the next three minutes, to help his team push their advantage back to nine (69-60). Daniel Horton then answered his counterpart's outburst with one of his own. Michigan's senior floor general nailed two straight threes on his way to eight consecutive points to reduce the lead to one. Dion Harris was then fouled on the ensuing possession and converted both free throws to put the Wolverines up 70-69 with four minutes left to play. That lead was short-lived though. Augustine put his team right back on top by converting two free throws of his own. Another Dee Brown jumper moved the lead back to three with 1:48 left, but the Wolverines were still within striking distance.
Dion Harris got a great look behind the arc the next time down the floor, but he couldn’t connect on the game-tying score. Both teams traded deuces afterward to keep the margin at three seconds left in the game, leaving the Wolverines with one more shot. Amaker called timeout to get a play drawn up and it resulted in a wide open look for Horton from three-point land, but his attempt rimmed out and Illinois went on to win the game 79-74.
Dee Brown paced the Illini with 26 points and five assists, while Daniel Horton led the way for the Wolverines with 19 points and five assists. For more on the game, click the following links: Boxscore, Notes & Quotes.
"We are not into moral victories, which I just mentioned to our kids," Amaker said after the defeat. "I thought both teams played with a great amount of heart and effort and really laid it all out on the line. I certainly thought a couple of plays they made down the stretch -- making some tough shots, especially the three-point play by Dee Brown -- were keys to this game. We had our opportunities but they slipped away for us. We came in here with the idea that we were going to win. We thought we had the game plan and strategy to do that. I thought our kids gave great effort to execute that. It's a tough place to play and they are very good. I am hoping that we can use some of the positives from this game. It's a long horse race, there is a lot of basketball to play. We just have to continue to get better. I mentioned to our kids we have to keep our heads up and get ready for the next one."
The "next one" for the Wolverines comes Wednesday night at Crisler Arena versus the Northwestern Wildcats. Tip-off is scheduled for 8pm.