If Illinois is going to snap its NCAA tournament drought, taking care of business at home is going to be key.
That's exactly what the Illini did Wednesday night in Champaign, beating up on one of the worst defensive teams in the Big Ten in a 85-69 win over the visiting Michigan Wolverines.
Illinois had a phenomenal night shooting the ball, shooting an eye-popping 64.2 percent on the evening. Big runs at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half grew Illinois' lead as big as 20.
The Illini got terrific performances all around, but Maverick Morgan and Kipper Nichols stood out. Morgan started for the first time since November and made the most of it, scoring 16 points. Nichols, who had six points on the season entering Wednesday's game, led a huge bench effort with 13 points.
The teams, which both entered with less-than-impressive defensive track records, had no problem getting shots to fall and putting up points early. The squads combined to go 17-for-22 to start the game, and the shooting percentages stayed high over the first 20 minutes, with Michigan ending the first half shooting 63.6 percent and Illinois shooting 62.5 percent.
The Illini got out to a modest five-point lead before the teams started trading runs. Michigan grabbed an edge with a 7-0 spurt, then Illinois answered with seven straight, only for Michigan to once more rattle off seven consecutive points. But the Illini had the decisive stretch of the first half, finishing the period on a massive 17-2 run as the Wolverines — despite that high shooting percentage — went the final four and a half minutes of the first half without a basket. Illinois' last three makes of the half all came from behind the 3-point line, where the Illini were 5-for-6 over the opening 20 minutes.
In the first 20 minutes of the game, the Illini scored 13 points off turnovers, got 17 points from their bench and scored eight second-chance points. Michigan scored seven points off turnovers but had zero points in the other two categories.
Those advantages remained huge in the second half. Illinois used a 14-4 run to turn its lead from big to huge, and the Illini were even hotter after halftime, shooting 66.7 percent over the final 20 minutes. Illinois was 9-for-14 from 3-point range on the night, the program's finest night shooting the long ball since 2010. The Illini had a 30-17 rebounding advantage by game's end, owning a massive 28-9 edge in bench points.
Morgan was the high man with 16 points, one of six Illini players in double figures. Malcolm Hill scored 15 points, Nichols finished with 13, Jalen Coleman-Lands had 12 points on four made 3-pointers, and Leron Black and Michael Finke each scored 10 points.
Michigan's shooting was much worse over the final 20 minutes at 44.8 percent. But it was on the boards where the Wolverines were killed with just 17 rebounds on the night. D.J. Wilson finished with 19 points, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman scored 14 points, Derrick Walton Jr. had 11 points, and Zak Irvin had 10 points.
Illinois evened its Big Ten record at 2-2 with the win, improving its overall mark to 12-5. The Illini get another chance to do some home cooking Saturday against Maryland.
Michigan dropped to 11-6 overall and 1-3 in the conference with the loss. Next up is a Saturday showdown with Nebraska in Ann Arbor.