“Sometimes the team that deserves to win doesn”t win,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “Our team deserved to win.”
If all someone saw this season of Michigan and Illinois was last night”s 68-60 Fighting Illini win at Crisler Arena, that person might think that he was watching another hard-fought, competitive battle between two Big Ten rivals. He probably wouldn”t guess that when the two teams met a month ago in Champaign, No. 21 Illinois (5-5 Big Ten, 16-7 overall) handled Michigan (4-6, 9-11) like the varsity team handles the JV.
This time Illinois was coming off three straight conference losses, and coach Bill Self saw the difficult road victory as a possible “turning point” for his previously struggling squad.
Michigan, as it did against Wisconsin last Saturday, established itself on its home floor with a strong run to begin the first half, even with walk-ons Herb Gibson and Mike Gotfredson starting. Leon Jones and Bernard Robinson led the Wolverines with seven and eight first-half points, respectively, while the Michigan defense kept the Illinois scorers quiet except forward Brian Cook.
With 6:10 remaining in the first half and the Wolverines leading 27-14, Cook had scored all 14 of the Illini”s points.
But once the Illinois offense was able to spread the ball around and get other players looks, the game turned around. Illinois went on an 18-3 run to end the first half.
In the second half, neither team was able to build any momentum. The Michigan offense struggled, as Robinson and Jones went dry. The hot hand was Dommanic Ingerson, who shot 3-of-6 from behind the 3-point line and finished the game with 11 points. After back-to-back Ingerson 3-pointers gave Michigan a 49-46 lead with 10 minutes left in the game, the two teams nipped and tugged at each other. There were 10 lead changes in the second half. Michigan played well down the stretch, but Illinois played better. A Cook 3-pointer with 2:21 remaining in the game sealed the win for Illinois.
“Had we just been able to hold on to our defensive intensity at the end of the first half, it wouldn”t have even got to that situation at the end of the second half,” Michigan tri-captain Chris Young said. “But we were just trading baskets with them, and you”re not going to beat any team doing that, especially not a team like Illinois.”