Rapid Reaction: Michigan 70, Illinois 61
Here’s a quick look at No. 25 Michigan’s 70-61 win over Illinois on Sunday.
How it happened: After a sloppy start, Michigan found its footing midway through the first half to remain unbeaten at home this season. The Wolverines trailed 20-19 in the first half and answered with an 11-1 run, which included seven points by Evan Smotrycz. Illinois never got within more than five points the rest of the way. Michigan got it done Sunday by forcing 13 turnovers, nine of which came from steals, and had four players in double figures. Illinois sophomore center Meyers Leonard also wasn’t a factor. He sat out a majority of the first half with two fouls and finished with five points.
What it means: Illinois dropped to two games under .500 in the Big Ten for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. The Illini have now lost three in a row and six of their last seven games. At 16-9 overall and 5-7 in conference, the Illini have some work ahead of them if they want to stay off the NCAA tournament bubble come next month. Illinois coach Bruce Weber’s job security also grows more tenuous with each loss. For Michigan, its Big Ten title hopes remained intact. The Wolverines, who are 9-4 in the Big Ten, will host Ohio State in a vital Big Ten game on Saturday.
Outside the box: Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas reaffirmed his expectations for the basketball program on Saturday. He said he wanted for the Illini to be relevant in the Big Ten title race down the stretch. With Sunday’s loss, Illinois lost all hope of that. The Illini dropped into the bottom half of the Big Ten and are in a three-way tie for eighth place.
Player of the game: Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. had struggled in the last two games, scoring a combined 10 points. He broke out of his slump and scored a team-high 15 points against the Illini.
Illinois player of the game: Tyler Griffey came off the bench and had the game of his career. After scoring a total of 14 points in Illinois’ first 11 Big Ten games, Griffey went off for a career-high 18 points against Michigan. He also had six rebounds. Illinois junior Brandon Paul scored a game-high 23 points.
What’s next: Illinois returns home to play Purdue on Wednesday. Michigan doesn’t play against until it hosts Ohio State on Saturday.