No. 12 Michigan overpowers Illinois, grabs Big Ten title
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Michigan came to Illinois with a shot at sewing up its first outright Big Ten title since 1986.
One potential obstacle stood in the way: The Illini were riding a hot streak and had held four straight opponents under 50 points.
It turns out Illinois wasn’t much of a problem.
Michigan (22-7, 14-3 Big Ten) buried Illinois with 16 3-pointers on the way to an 84-53 blowout Tuesday night.
Nik Stauskas scored 24 points, hitting a career-best seven 3 pointers. He said Michigan didn’t want to share the championship with anybody, something it did in 2012.
"We came with that mindset, this was our championship and we wanted to win it," he said.
Dialed in or not, Michigan coach John Beilein said he didn’t see that kind of shooting performance coming against the Illini (17-13, 6-11).
"I haven’t seen that in practice even," Beilein said. "We were really good today."
Michigan shot 70 percent from 3-point range and hit 29 of its 51 shots from the field, 56.9 percent.
Michigan’s shooting was a "perfect storm" that reminded Illinois coach John Groce of LeBron James’ 61-point game on Monday night.
"He said he felt like he was throwing a golf ball in an ocean," Groce said. "That’s what it was like tonight."
Michigan had the game in hand by halftime with a 52-30 lead. The Wolverines hit five straight 3-pointers midway through the half to break the game open. The 15-point run turned widened Michigan’s 20-17 lead to a comfortable 32-17.
Caris LeVert added 15 points for Michigan and Glenn Robinson III had 13.
Almost lost in the shooting was a quietly dominant performance on the boards by the Wolverines, outrebounding Illinois 33-23. Jon Horford led Michigan with 10 boards.
The Illini had won three straight. The loss was their worst at home in the 51-year history of the arena formerly known as the Assembly Hall and now called the State Farm Center.
Rayvonte Rice led Illinois with 16 and Kendrick Nunn added 14.
While Michigan broke 50 points by halftime, Illinois didn’t get there until the game had just over three minutes left and had long been decided.
Offensively, the Illini weren’t bad over the first 20 minutes, shooting 54.2 percent.
But the Wolverines were unstoppable. They were 11-for-14 from 3-point range (78.6 percent) in the first half.
And Michigan had a dozen assists in those decisive 20 minutes and, against a team that had been living off steals, had turned the ball over just three times. The Illini had scored 20.7 points a game off steals during their three-game win streak.
It was the 3-pointers, though, that broke the game open.
Midway through the half, the Wolverines were good from 3-point range on five straight possessions. That turned a tight 17-13 game with 13:21 to play into a 32-17 blowout-in-the-making with just over eight minutes in the half.
"It’s just one of those things, it’s kind of contagious," Stauskas said.
As the clock wound down on the half, the Illini seemed determined to at least not let the Wolverines break 50.
Michigan had the ball and a 49-30 lead with 29 seconds left. Illinois committed three straight fouls to keep the Wolverines away from the basket.
Finally, with four seconds left, the Canadian Stauskas waited for the inbound pass from Derrick Walton Jr., as the Orange Krush student section aimed loud "USA! USA!" chants in his direction.
Stauskas took the pass and, just ahead of the buzzer, launched yet another 3-pointer. It slipped through the net and he enjoyed a long, slow stare at the student section before heading to the locker room.
Horford said that even after the big win, the Wolverines didn’t do much celebrating.
"Not really. We understand there are greater things ahead of us," he said.