CHAMPAIGN – Michigan did nothing out of the ordinary. Which by Michigan’s standards is extraordinary.
Illinois fell victim to the second-ranked Wolverines’ precision offense in a 74-60 loss Sunday at a sold-out Assembly Hall that hosted a revved-up crowd eager to witness an upset.
Instead, the Illini (15-6, 2-5 Big Ten) were left to figure out how to climb out of a tumble that has resulted in six losses in nine games.
“Give Michigan a lot of credit,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “You break down and make just one mistake … they exploit it like that. They have a lot of weapons out there.”
Michigan (19-1, 6-1) likely will rise to No. 1 in today’s polls, a high point in the Wolverines’ resurgence that would have them at the top spot for the first time since the 1992-93 season.
They made 57.7 percent of their second-half shots and 52.5 percent for the game, led by 19 points from point guard and national player of the year candidate Trey Burke.
The Illini’s effort was evident at times but it was not sustainable against an offense as on-target as Michigan’s. They shot 37.1 percent for the game and made only 1 of 11 3-point tries in the second half.
“The biggest thing we have to understand is when things aren’t going well for us on the offensive end, you cannot tie your mindset mentally to that, especially on the defensive end,” Groce said. “We have to get a little tougher mentally.”
Illinois closed to within four points early in the second half and cut a 13-point Wolverines lead to nine, but Michigan did not open the door any wider.
Brandon Paul led the Illini with 15 points, but he was responsible for five of their costly 15 turnovers. D.J. Richardson, coming off a career-high 30 points at Nebraska, finished with 12 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
Michigan received crucial help from its secondary post players when Jordan Morgan went out with an ankle sprain early in the game. Starting forward Glenn Robinson III led the way with 10 points and seven rebounds, but reserves Mitch McGary (six points) and Jon Horford (seven) contributed.
It doesn’t get easier for Illinois. Three of its next four opponents are ranked, including No. 13 Michigan State on Thursday.
“Our guys like challenges,” Groce said.