CHAMPAIGN — For the first time since 1986, the Michigan men’s basketball team won the outright Big Ten regular-season title.
And it wasn’t even close.
The 12th-ranked Wolverines (14-3 Big Ten, 22-7 overall) rolled over Illinois, 84-53, for their fourth consecutive win and 14th conference title behind one of their strongest offensive outputs of the season.
“We’ve had some really good games this year, but none like that,” said Michigan coach John Beilein.
Added sophomore guard Nik Stauskas: “That was some of our best basketball today.”
The Fighting Illini (6-11 , 17-13) had held opponents to fewer than 50 points in their last four games, but on Tuesday, Michigan scored 52 before halftime. It was the Wolverines’ first time with more than 80 points since an 80-75 win over Michigan State on Jan. 25.
Stauskas led all scorers with 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting while sophomore guard Caris LeVert and sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III added 15 and 13 points, respectively.
The Wolverines’ lead was as large as 33 with six minutes left in the second half after LeVert made an and-1 following a drive to the hoop.
“We just focused on Michigan basketball today, and I gotta say, we moved the ball extremely well,” Stauskas said. “Guys were playing with a lot of confidence today.
“We came in with that mindset that this was our championship and that we wanted to win it outright.”
Michigan used a 19-4 run midway through the half, capped by a two-handed dunk from Robinson III, to break away.
The Wolverines pulled away later in the half, stretching their lead to 24, thanks to 11-for-14 shooting from behind the arc. Michigan finished the game 16-for-23 from 3-point range at the end of the night, tying a Big Ten record for the most 3-pointers made in a game.
Stauskas’s 3-pointer nearly 25 feet from the basket in the waning seconds of the first half gave the Wolverines a 22-point lead. The guard made a career-best seven shots from long range before being removed with more than five minutes to play in the second half.
“When we needed him to come up big several times this year, he’s been very, very good,” Beilein said. “When you work as hard as he has, this is a very good reward.
“He’s in that picture for all-league Player of the Year type of candidate.”
Stauskas’s last basket of the game, with just under 10 minutes still left to play, came from the left corner on a fadeaway attempt, silencing a crowd of orange that had heckled him much of the night.
The offensive performance overshadowed an impressive defense that had its best performance since it held Nebraska to 50 points on Feb. 5. It marked the sixth time this season the Wolverines have held opponents to fewer than 55 points.
“You can’t win in this league without defense,” Beilein said. “When you have freshman out there on the floor every night … it’s tough to understand the pace and different offenses you see every night. But that’s gotten better for us.”
The strong shooting compensated for a quiet performance from the Wolverine big men, who played without fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan for 33 minutes of the game. The forward left early in the first half with what was called a bruised tailbone.
Redshirt junior forward Jon Horford filled in admirably, though, collecting 10 rebounds in 28 minutes of action.
The win leaves Michigan 7-2 on the road in conference play, its best road record since 1985.
The Wolverines cruised through the second half, riding the hot hand of LeVert. Leading 59-39 seven minutes into the half, Michigan went on a 16-4 run in which LeVert contributed nine points.
The lead stretched far enough to a point where Beilein was able to give reserves time to play and a chance for everyone to laugh, smile and hug in the historic performance.
This time, there was no drama of whether a last second tip would fall, as was the case last year. Nor was there the drama of two years ago when Ohio State’s win over Michigan State clinched a three-way tie for first.
This time, there were quiet players walking away from the podium to their locker room. The celebration after 28 years of waiting was relatively reserved, as players and coaches remained quiet and collected leaving the court.
“It’s an accomplishment, but we still have a long road,” Horford said. “Nothing stands out specifically. People just played well.”