Ann Arbor — In the wake of Michigan hiring Jim Harbaugh as the football coach earlier Tuesday afternoon, the basketball game seemed to be less about the matchup against Illinois than an extended coronation of Harbaugh.
Despite a sluggish middle 20 minutes, UM rallied in the final 10 minutes and erased a double-digit deficit, shocking the Illini, 73-65, in overtime in the Big Ten opener before a sellout crowd of 12,707 at Crisler Center.
Freshman Aubrey Dawkins — who attended Palo Alto High School, like Harbaugh — had a career-best 20 points, with six 3-pointers. CarisLeVert added 19 points and Ricky Doyle and Zak Irvin added 13 apiece for the Wolverines (8-5, 1-0 Big Ten).
"That game had the feel of a February game with a Big Ten championship on the line," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "We're really proud of the way our kids responded."
UM won its eighth straight in the series against Illinois (10-4, 0-1) and has bounced back from a four-game skid with two straight victories.
Dawkins tied it at 61 after hitting a pair of free throws with 4:15 left in overtime and Irvin followed with a triple for a 3-point lead. That ignited a 14-2 run after the Illini had moved ahead in the extra period and helped Michigan put the game away.
It was a breakout game for Dawkins, who had totaled 15 points in the 10 games prior.
Dawkins scored 20 points in 73-65 OT win over Illinois.
"At the end of the day, I look at the stat sheet and it's exactly what I expected or hoped for except for one thing — that's the young man who had shot 11 total threes on the season coming into the game going 6-for-7," Illinois coach John Groce said. "Give him credit. Give them credit. They have a pattern of recruiting perimeter players who could shoot.
"You knew he could, just hadn't yet and he got on quite a roll. He was really the difference in the game when you look at the stat sheet."
Dawkins had languished near the bottom of Michigan's playing rotation, but with Beilein looking for additional shooters and with Derrick Walton struggling, it was as good a time as any for the freshman to make an impact.
"This is getting comfortable. Slowing down and getting some patience out there and letting things come to me and not be in such a hurry and being confident in my abilities," said Dawkins, who also had five rebounds in 24 minutes. "(Coaches) always say be ready for the bench guys because anything can happen in the game and you have to be ready to come in the game.
"All the veterans have helped me stay confident, as well as the other bench guys."
For Beilein, Dawkins emergence is a find, as LeVert and Irvin had been carrying most of the scoring load; adding another outside shooter opens other options inside for Doyle and makes Michigan more formidable.
"That's huge for us to get guys who can make shots like that," Beilein said. "With most freshmen, it's not a matter of making shots; it's a matter of playing defense early in their career and while he continues to learn so much about defense, we haven't been able to get him in there as much."
After Illinois hit two free throws, Dawkins put the game away with his final 3-pointer to make it 67-63 with 1:51 left in the extra period. LeVert used a hesitation move in the lane and hooked in a basket for a six-point advantage with 42.7 seconds left.
Irvin and Spike Albrecht added four free throws and the Wolverines took a surprising win, after trailing for most of regulation.
UM trailed, 58-35, with 11:23 left and looked to be done, but Dawkins helped engineer the comeback with a triple, and hit three more over the next seven minutes, to keep Michigan close.
But another freshman, Doyle, got the lead for the Wolverines. His basket with 3:15 left pulled them within one and his second straight basket, a layup on a pick-and-roll pass from LeVert, gave UM its first lead since 9-8 at the 13:59 mark of the first half.
Illinois grabbed the lead on a basket by Malcolm Hill (19 points, seven rebounds) but Doyle answered with a layin on a pick-and-roll pass from Albrecht. Doyle had a chance to get the lead at the end of regulation, but split a pair of free throws with 30.1 seconds left, tying it at 59.
In the zone
Beilein has been trying to work with the Wolverines on improving the defense — and it worked, with different looks in 2-3 zone and the 1-3-1, which UM hasn't used as much because of the young players learning the system.
"We're working to have our defense be weapons in several areas. It takes so much time whether it's a 2-3 zone or a 1-3-1 zone just to get everybody," Beilein said. "We missed two or three slides in that thing and giving up open shots."
LeVert, asked about whether he had some of Harbaugh's trademark khakis, said he went along with the trend for the Maize Rage student section, who declared it a "Khaki-Out" and most of them wore them to support Harbaugh.
"I think I wore some to the game today," LeVert said. "I'm a big, big Harbaugh fan."