Burke, No. 2 Michigan outlast Illini

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Burke, No. 2 Michigan outlast Illini

CHAMPAIGN Michigan proved they deserve to be the nations top team with an easy 74-60 road victory over Illinois. Perhaps the best indicator of the Wolverines elite status was the way they drained the enthusiasm from the Assembly Hall Sunday night.
Every time Illinois (15-6, 2-5) made a good shot or looked to make a run Michigan (19-1, 6-1) responded with a shot of equal magnitude. Four of the Wolverines starting five finished the game in double figures, led by Trey Burke with 19, giving Illinois too much to handle.
The Illini were hardly at their worst, however. The teams effort, especially early in the game, was on par with coach John Groces expectations.
We had our mind and heart in the right place today, he said. We had some good looks today. We executed really well in the first thirty minutes, had some good looks and didnt make them. They did, and thats the difference.
Illinois also managed to match up well with Michigan on the glass, grabbing 37 rebounds to the Wolverines 35. Michigan has only been out-rebounded three times this season. Perhaps more impressively, though, Illinois pulled down 16 offensive rebounds; so far in Big Ten play, Michigan has allowed opponents an average of just nine offensive rebounds per game.
It was the offensive end where Illinois struggled. Despite their solid play on the glass, shots did not fall for the Illini the way they would have liked. The hosts shot just 37 percent compared to Michigans 52 percent mark. After starting the game 3-of-6 from behind the arc, the Illini made just 3-of-21 the rest of the way.
John Beilein, the Michigan coach, praised Illinois for putting up a fight and said his teambenefitedfrom the drop-off in shooting.
Illinois has great quickness, good defense. We were fortunate they dried up from three, he said.
Illinois started the game with an exclamation an alley-oop from Brandon Paul to Nnanna Egwu and for the first few minutes of the game the Illini kept up the pace. With two-and-a-half minutes gone, the hosts had a 7-4 lead after a Paul three.
After the first media timeout, however, Michigan began to take control of the game. The Wolverines erased all of Illinois momentum, going on an 11-0 run between 17:28 and 10:52 to pull in front 15-7.
Another Paul 3-pointer followed by another from Tracy Abrams helped Illinois swing the game their way again. An offensive rebound and quick slam-dunk by Tyler Griffey with 7:55 to go in the first half helped Illinois pull within a shot of the lead, 19-17.
The teams would swap baskets for the next few minutes, but Michigan seemed to have the easier time scoring between the two teams. When Trey Burke answered Pauls third three, putting Michigan ahead 28-22 with 3:43 to play in the first half, the game appeared to be comfortably in the visitors hands.
Burke hit a couple big shots in the waning minutes to deepen the hole for Illinois. First he drained a contested runner from the lane, then he hit a deep jumper just before the buzzer to send the Wolverines to the locker room at halftime leading 35-27.
Illinois started the second half with an unforced turnover, but quickly overcame the error thanks to a converted and-one by Sam McLaurin and a fastbreak layup from Tracy Abrams. Two minutes into the half Illinois had cut the Wolverines lead to 5, 39-34.The final few points of Michigans lead proved to be too big an obstacle for the Illini, however.
After narrowing the gap the hosts threw the ball away, lost the handle, or let the rebounds fall to Michigan. The errors piled up, and a few minutes into the second half Illinois had a run four straight turnovers. The Wolverines eagerly converted after the turnovers, increasing their lead to 50-37 after a steal from Glenn Robinson III and a layup by Burke with 14:28 to play.
Illinois would get the deficit below double-digits a few more times, but each time the Wolverines found a way to kill the Illinis momentum. A DJ Richardson floater with 11 minutes to play lessened the gap to nine, but the excitement from the shot would quickly dissipate as Tim Hardaway Jr. drained a 3-pointer at the other end.
Two minutes later a Richardson three followed closely by a Joseph Bertrand jumper brought the score to 55-48. A Mitch McGary tip-in dashed the enthusiasm of the fans at Assembly Hall, though. When Burke followed up with a steal and fast-break dunk, the air was sucked from the home crowd.
Groce said his team lived to regret those missed opportunities.
Those were critical moments in the game where maybe we had a chance, he said. When things arent going well on offense we cant tie that in our mind and let it affect how were doing on the defensive end.
Michigan played out the last few minutes comfortably as the Assembly Hall audience trickled out. The Illini came up with a few baskets in the final minutes, but not enough to make a difference on the outcome.
Groce walked off the court not upset with his team or their effort, but impressed with Michigan.
Michigan is really good, obviously. They have a lot of weapons. We tried to limit Burke, but they had some other guys hurt us, he said.
The three Illini guards finished in double figures, with Paul leading the team with 15 points, Richardson scoring 12 and Abrams netting 10. Their contributions were overshadowed by Burke, Nick Stauskas (14 pts.), Robinson and Hardaway (12 pts., each).
The loss to Michigan was the beginning of a tough road for the Illini. In their next five game the team will play four top 15 opponents. The challenge is a welcome one for Illinois, however.
Our guys like challenges. We play a lot of good teams and I think they like that, Groce said.
Were going to prepare for every team the same way. Its a good league, we knew that coming in, Richardson elaborated. Well keep our chins up and try to get better in practice.
The way Beilein praised the Illini after the game, its easy to believe he expects the team to improve and make a good run in their next few games.
Sometimes its a matter of a couple guys hitting shots to give you confidence, he said. When you play that way it can be difficult at timestheyll shoot their way out of it eventually.
Illinois will try to shoot better on Thursday when the team travels to East Lansing to play number 13 Michigan State.

Chicago native Paris Lee doing all he can to make sure Illinois State's NCAA Tournament bubble doesn't burst

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USA TODAY

Chicago native Paris Lee doing all he can to make sure Illinois State's NCAA Tournament bubble doesn't burst

Dan Muller didn't even have to say anything.

The Illinois State men's basketball coach certainly didn't want his team to lose focus, not with what the game against Bradley meant for the Redbirds' NCAA tournament chances. 

But as Bradley mounted a comeback in the second half of what initially appeared to be a blowout, senior point guard Paris Lee stepped up and delivered all that needed to be said.

"Paris led us like he always does," senior forward Deontae Hawkins said. "The defense was slacking later in the game and Paris called us out and told us, 'We're too old to keep following our old habits.'"

[RELATED —​ MVC tripleheader on CSN Wednesday night, including ISU-Missouri State at 8 p.m.]

The Redbirds wound up cruising to a 64-50 win over Bradley to improve their record in the Missouri Valley Conference to 13-1 (21-5 overall) and Lee took home MVC player of the week honors for his effort.

It was all the more important given the audience at Redbird Arena Saturday night.

At halftime, Illinois State honored the 1998 team, the last Redbirds squad to make it to the NCAA Tournament back when Muller was filling an important role as a player instead of a coach.

Now in his fifth year at the helm of ISU, Muller has improved the Redbirds' record in the MVC in each season. With four conference games left — including Wednesday night's tilt against Missouri State on CSN — Muller has already set a new high mark with 13 conference wins.

And he's been leaning heavily on Lee to do so.

Muller said Lee's impassioned mid-game speech to his teammates has become a common sight this year as Lee — a native of Maywood, Ill. just outside Chicago — has grown more comfortable in a leadership role.

"Paris is pretty locked in," Muller said. "He's been a coach on that floor all year; he has been since he's been here [at ISU]. That's one of the areas he's probably improved the most over the last four — his leadership, his competitive spirit, his comfort level and taking control of the team."

Lee admitted his transformation into a leader was not always a natural fit.

"I feel like I had no other choice but to start maturing because we had a lot of new guys on the team and a lot of younger guys looking up to me," he said. "So I had to. I was kinda forced to grow up. 

"In previous years, I've always had teammates that were able to take the load from me, talk, do everything I should do. But this year, I had no choice but to [step up as a leader]."

Lee is all in — down to his red-tipped dreadlocks that he joked gives him more swag and a pair of sick red Jordans — on getting the Redbirds back to the NCAA Tournament in his final season. He's already set a new career high in assists, thriving as a playmaker/facilitator.

"I'm very hungry, man," Lee said. "I'm gonna continue to play the right way, not try to do too much. Just try to do the right thing to help my team win."

Wednesday on CSN: Missouri Valley with three games on CSN/CSN+

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Wednesday on CSN: Missouri Valley with three games on CSN/CSN+

The Missouri Valley has a busy day night of basketball on CSN and CSN+ on Wednesday night.

It starts at 6 p.m. with Southern Illinois hosting Wichita State on CSN. After that game on CSN, Illinois State will travel to Missouri State in a game that will air live at 8 p.m.

CSN+ will also air another live Missouri Valley matchup at 7 p.m. as Northern Iowa hosts Bradley.

[RELATED - Chicago native Paris Lee doing all he can to make sure Illinois State's NCAA Tournament bubble doesn't burst]

Southern Illinois (14-13, 7-7) is trying to compete for the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament as they get a big opportunity to host a conference leader. Senior guard Mike Rodriguez leads the Salukis in points (12.9 ppg) and assists (4.2 apg).

Wichita State (23-4, 13-1) are not only fighting for the conference regular season title but also a potential NCAA tournament bid. The Shockers are a balanced group led by Markis McDuffie (11.8 ppg). 

The second game on CSN has Illinois State going to Missouri State.

The Redbirds (21-5, 13-1) will have a tough one on the road as they only beat the Bears by three in early January at home. Deontae Hawkins is leading the team in scoring at 14.4 points per game as Illinois State tries to adjust to playing without MiKyle McIntosh. 

Missouri State (15-12, 6-8) has lost three straight games. Junior forward Alize Johnson leads the Bears in scoring at 15.4 points per game. 

The third game of the night will be on CSN+ as Northern Iowa is hosting Bradley at 7 p.m.

The Panthers (13-12, 8-6) have won three straight games as they've made a push into third place in the Valley. Senior Jeremy Morgan (15.4 points, 6.1 rebounds per game) is having a strong season as he's looking like an all-conference player.

Bradley (9-18, 4-10) beat Northern Iowa, 72-61, the last two time these teams met in Peoria as the Braves have lost two straight games. Freshman guard Darrell Brown leads the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game.