Burke, No. 2 Michigan outlast Illini

Burke, No. 2 Michigan outlast Illini
January 28, 2013, 2:18 am
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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.