Champaign, Ill. — After stumbling out the gate in Big Ten play, Michigan was searching to gain some traction and take a step in the right direction.
Instead, the Wolverines slipped up and took another step back.
Michigan’s defense was torched once again and everything fell off the rails late in the first half as the Wolverines were hammered by Illinois, 85-69, Wednesday night at State Farm Center.
D.J. Wilson scored 19 for Michigan (11-6, 1-3 Big Ten) in a dejected performance. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman added 14, Derrick Walton Jr. had 11 and Zak Irvin 10 for the Wolverines, who are still winless in true road games.
Maverick Morgan scored 16 to lead Illinois' balanced attack that shot 64.2 percent (34-for-53) from the field. Malcolm Hill added 15, Kipper Nichols 13, Jalen Coleman-Lands 12 and Leron Black 10.
After the teams traded baskets throughout a defenseless first half, Walton hit a 3-pointer to give Michigan a 34-32 lead at the 4:30 mark.
But everything went south after that. On the next possession, Walton was called for an offensive push-off and drew a technical foul for slamming the ball down on the floor with 3:18 left in the half.
The Wolverines unraveled down the stretch and Illinois (12-5, 2-2) closed with a 17-2 run to take a 49-36 lead into halftime.
“First and foremost, I apologized to the ref because honestly I wasn't even mad about the call,” Walton said. “I thought it was a good call. I actually tried to make the shot but it was just bad timing, and me and the ref talked about it. I apologized to my guys and that's kind of what kick-started the run that took them into the half.”
Michigan coach talks about the momentum-shifting run Illinois went on to close the second half in Wednesday's loss. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Hill hit the two technical free throws to start a string of 12 straight points for the Fighting Illini. Nichols followed with an offensive putback, Hill hit a mid-range jumper and Coleman-Lands capped it with back-to-back 3-pointers.
Wilson stopped the bleeding with two free throws but Illinois dealt one last blow with a 3-pointer by Michael Finke to take a 13-point advantage into the break.
“Really tough game for even this coach to understand,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They shot the ball well. We didn't guard the ball very well again and that's the story of the game.
“At 34-34 with three minutes to go, the 3 barrage was a huge difference in the game at the end of the first half. They run zone, so with Duncan (Robinson) on the bench with his second foul, as well with Derrick on the bench with his second foul, that run was critical. Then we never could catch up.”
The Wolverines opened the second half with a flurry as Moritz Wagner hit a 3-pointer and three free throws and Irvin converted a fast-break layup to quickly cut it to single digits, 53-44, with 17:22 left.
Senior guard talks about the technical foul he received that helped spark a 17-2 Illinois run to close out the first half in Wednesday's loss. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
But Illinois pushed it back to double digits within the blink of an eye, scoring seven straight in less than a minute to put Michigan in a 60-44 hole at the 16:10 mark.
Michigan trimmed it to 60-48 on a Wilson turnaround jumper but that’s as close as it would get. Illinois countered with another 7-0 flurry and the rout was on after Michael Finke buried a corner 3-pointer to put the Fighting Illini up 70-50 with 10:47 to go.
Illinois led by at least 15 the rest of the way and Beilein waved the white flag by emptying the bench over the final 5 minutes.
The first 10 minutes of the game were a different story as the Wolverines got off to a solid start, hitting their first four shots on two Wilson baskets and an Irvin mid-range jumper and layup to take an 8-6 lead with 17:11 left in the first.
However, Illinois made it clear from the get-go it was going to lean on its inside-out game as Black and Morgan opened a combined 5-for-6 from the field and scored all the Fighting Illini’s points to take 10-8 lead roughly a minute later.
Abdur-Rahkman provided a burst, scoring 12 straight for the Wolverines with a pair of layups, two 3-pointers and two free throws after being fouled a one-handed dunk attempt. His effort helped ignite a 7-0 run that featured two Wilson layups and a Walton three-point play to put Michigan on top, 27-25, at the 8:04 mark.
But Illinois countered with a seven straight points in less than a minute on a pair of baskets in the paint and a wide-open 3-pointer by Nichols to reclaim a 32-27 edge with 6:16 left in the half, providing a glimpse of what was to come.
“I’m in a little bit of shock right now with the trend that has continued to go,” Beilein said. “Our worst defensive teams were not like this. We just got to continue to just really work very hard at playing with more intensity, more passion.”