INDIANAPOLIS -- After burning the nets from three-point range in Champaign a little over a week ago to win their first outright Big Ten championship since 1986, Michigan’s quarterfinal match-up and rematch with Illinois proved far more trying than the recent 84-53 blowout.
“Well, we’re thrilled to get that win because as you can see, as Illinois has shown in their last six games, how well the program has played after a tough January,” Michigan coach John Beilein said afterward. “To win at Michigan State, to win at Iowa, and to win at Minnesota in that stretch shows you how good they are.
“So we had a lot of respect for them coming in. They proved how good they were, and, fortunately, we got some good bounces around the basket to finish the game.”
Given several of the same looks from deep in Friday’s 64-63 win over the Illini, the shots weren’t falling like they normally do for the Wolverines.
Michigan knocked down just 4-of-17 looks from the perimeter in the second half, allowing Illinois to attack and make a run, nearly stealing a much needed victory for John Groce’s up and coming program.
“It was all 2-3 zone,” Beilein said of Illinois’ defense. “They ran some full court action just to slow us down. I’ll have to look at the quality of our shot a little bit.
“Nik (Stauskas) went two for ten in the game and -- I think those were the best shots he got were against the zone. He didn’t knock them down, but we had people knock down big ones early in the second half between Spike (Albrecht), Glenn Robinson III, Derrick Walton, but we’re going to have to make some of those because they were really packed in there.”
Despite shooting just 20-percent on his three-point attempts, Stauskas did manage to stay aggressive putting pressure on the rim and drawing contact, knocking down 9-of-10 free throws finishing with 19 points to lead the Wolverines.
When Michigan’s lead ballooned to 11 early in the second half the wheels could have come off for Illinois. Instead, a bubble team playing for a spot in the NCAA tournament and in need of a big win on national television, dug deep and made enough plays to hang around, even take the lead down the stretch.
The Illini were led by Tracy Abrams’ 11-points, five rebounds and five assists, turning the ball over just one time.
On Michigan’s most important defensive possession of the game, the Wolverines played excellent team defense, extending pressure all over the floor as seconds ticked off in the final minute, ultimately forcing a double team and shot clock violation by Illinois.
Shot clock off, Michigan called a timeout to draw up what would be the game winning play, sending them off to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament.
After a dribble drive handoff with Albrecht, Stauskas came hard around a screen at the top of the key with extended pressure by the Illini, only to find senior center Jordan Morgan wide open in the paint.
“Well, the difficulty was going to be whether they were going to be in zone or man, so we tried to call a play that works against both, and we still had timeouts left,” Beilein said. “If we didn’t like what we saw coming up, I was going to use another timeout maybe at the 11, 10-second mark.
“But they came out in man, and so we were just running something to get Nik (Stauskas) the ball, and then get him some action, and then he just read the floor. If he shot it, fine. If he found somebody else, fine.
“We had Glenn [Robinson III], we had Caris (LeVert) and we had Derrick (Walton Jr.) -- or Spike [Albrecht], all coming open at the same time, as well.”
Collecting the ball in between the blocks, Morgan quickly and softly laid the ball up on the rim, bouncing before finding it’s way through to put Michigan up 64-63 with under 10 seconds to play.
Illinois rushed the ball up the floor before calling a timeout with three seconds remaining, getting the ball in the hands of Abrams who had a good look at a floater that clanged off the rim before the buzzer sounded.
Glenn Robinson III scored 15 for Michigan while Caris LeVert finished with 13-points.
Michigan moves on to a semifinal match-up with Ohio State Saturday afternoon while Illinois now awaits an uncertain fate come selection Sunday.