Morgan leads Illinois to 85-69 win over Michigan
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) Illinois coach John Groce saw the change he had hoped for from his team Wednesday night in the Illini’s 85-69 win over Michigan.
Illinois (12-5, 2-2 Big Ten) changed up its lineup after its 96-80 loss to Indiana on Saturday, its second blowout loss in three games, and the improvements showed as six different players scored in double figures, led by Maverick Morgan with 16 points.
The changes worked for Groce on Wednesday, but the coach stayed away from cementing the lineup when asked if it would continue to succeed.
”(The changes worked) tonight,” Groce said. ”I think we’re going to need everybody, every game and every team is different . tonight it was the best decision for our team to put us in the position to compete tonight.”
Much of the offensive success came from the addition of freshmen Kipper Nichols and Te’Jon Lucas into the lineup. The two impressed the coaching staff in Illinois’ attempted comeback against Indiana, leading to more playing time.
Nichols had his strongest performance of the season, coming off the bench for 13 points and eight rebounds, helping the Illini to a 30-17 rebounding advantage.
Lucas took advantage of 23 minutes of playing time, leading Illinois’ productive offense while also scoring five points and adding eight assists with only one turnover.
Although Morgan didn’t know exactly how to describe what the two brought, he said it was a different aura to the team.
”It is hard to explain, it’s energy that not everybody can bring,” Morgan said. ”It gets everyone going.”
Illinois outscored Michigan 28-9 off the bench.
The Wolverines had a 4:30 field goal drought and the Illini put together a 17-2 to close the first half for a 49-36 halftime.
Both teams shot better than 60 percent in the first half but the Illini were even better in the second, making 17 of 21 shots, and finished 9 of 14 from 3-point range. Michigan cooled off to 45 percent in the second half but finished 7 of 14 behind the arc.
”The basket is really big when you’re playing Michigan right now,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
DJ Wilson led Michigan (11-6, 1-3) with 19 points and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added 14 points in an effort where too many Illinois runs and Michigan scoring droughts took the game away from Michigan.
”Really a tough game for this coach to understand. Obviously Illinois played really well,” Beilein said. ”We didn’t guard the ball really well, and that’s the story of the game.”
Michigan: John Beilein’s team couldn’t sneak away with a win that it needed to impress the NCAA Tournament selection committee. Michigan will need to rebound quickly with red-hot Nebraska coming into town Saturday.
Illinois: The Illini won a game they needed to win for their NCAA Tournament hopes to stay alive. A home loss against a fellow bubble team wouldn’t look good come Selection Sunday.
STAT OF THE NIGHT
Illinois’ big had a dominant offensive performance, but they also won big on the board, out-rebounding Michigan 30-17.
It was announced before the game that Illinois’ D.J. Williams was taking a ”temporary leave from the team for personal reasons.” When asked about a possible transfer, Groce said, ”Not to my knowledge.”
There’s a mutual understanding of why he needed to leave for a few days. There are things more important than basketball. We will continue to have conversations with him.”
Michigan is home against Nebraska on Saturday.
Illinois will try to avenge an earlier loss, hosting Maryland on Saturday.
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