During the conference schedule Michigan has made a habit of starting games well, before slowly beginning to unravel. That was the case again Wednesday night. The Wolverines jumped out to an early 10-4 lead when Illinois begin to fight its way back into the game with help from Warren Carter. The senior, playing in his last game at home, helped keep the Illini in the contest early on with a number of key baskets.
As the Illini started to get on track offensively, the Wolverines started to derail. The visitors fell into another one of their proverbial scoring droughts. After relinquishing the lead on an And-1 dunk by Carter, Michigan quickly re-tied the score on a Jerret Smith jumper. That made the score 19-19 with 4:18 left in the half, but it was the last basket Michigan would score for over seven minutes. Tommy Amaker's club went into the half trailing 23-19, and it only got worse after the intermission.
Illinois took advantage of the Wolverines' poor execution by opening the half on a 7-0 run that was keyed by five straight points, including a three-pointer, by Rich McBride. The score was 30-19 before Ekpe Udoh finally ended the drought at the 17:01 mark with a lay-up.
The Wolverines cut a little further into the deficit the next time down the court when Brent Petway followed up a Lester Abram miss with an emphatic slam, but that's as close as they would get. Back to back three pointers by Carter and McBride pushed the Illini's advantage to thirteen and they never looked back on their way to the 54-42 victory.
Both teams had poor shooting nights from the field with Michigan hitting only 37.2% of its shots and Illinois only 35.2%. However, Bruce Weber's club was able to compensate for that paltry performance by grabbing 12 offensive rebounds (to Michigan's six). Amaker singled that out as one of the keys to the game.
"We held them to a low field goal percentage, but (we also allowed) them so many opportunities to get second-chance points and (they got) to the foul line a few more times than we did," Amaker said. "Certainly having a kid like McBride who can make a three or so can hurt you. They made some tough ones. They earned it in that way, but it's disappointing in the way that we gave up second-chance opportunities."
Also disappointing were the performances from senior guards Dion Harris and Lester Abram. They combined for six points on 1/11 shooting.
"As we've said before, we need our seniors to play well for us to be
successful and Dion didn't have a good offensive game," Amaker said. "Lester
didn't have many opportunities himself with 31 minutes – one field goal
attempt, 0-1 from the floor. So we didn't get production on the offensive end
that we're certainly going to need from two of our guards and two of our better
Jerret Smith led the way for the Wolverines with nine points. Warren Carter paced the Illini with 18.
Michigan will look to get back into the win column when they travel to Minnesota Saturday to take on the Golden Gophers. Tip-off is scheduled for 1:32 p.m. CST.