Michigan coach talks about his team's performance in Saturday's 79-69 win. James Hawkins, Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Nothing was going right for Michigan in the first half.
The offense was out of sync and the turnovers were mounting against Illinois’ pressure defense.
On top of that, the Wolverines were without leading scorer Charles Matthews for 19 of the first 20 minutes because of foul trouble.
Michigan overcame it all with a blistering second-half shooting performance to fight past Illinois, 79-69, Saturday at Crisler Center and extend its winning streak to seven. It’s the first time Michigan has won seven straight regular-season games since it won 10 straight in 2013-14.
Moritz Wagner had 14 points and seven rebounds to lead six players in double figures for the Wolverines (14-3, 3-1 Big Ten), who shot 64 percent (16-for-25) in the second half and 51 percent (26-for-51) for the game.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson added 13 points each, Isaiah Livers scored 12, Jordan Poole 11 and Matthews 10, all in the second half.
“Illinois has a great plan that's new to our league and it took us almost a full half to get used to it,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “We play them once and I'm glad it was here because it was really a tough game for us.
“The first half was really tough for us to adjust. The very first play we turn it over. We had some tough breaks there, but they put us in those situations. Second half I was so proud of the way we played.”
Freshman forward talks about building off his breakthrough game at Iowa with a 12-point performance in Saturday's 79-69 win over Illinois. James Hawkins, Detroit News
After surviving a rough opening 20 minutes, Michigan came out firing in the second half with a 10-2 run to pull ahead 41-36 with 16:55 remaining.
The Wolverines set the tone and scored the first seven points in a 90-second span on a Matthews alley-oop slam followed by a three-point play and layup by Wagner.
It was part a stretch in which Michigan made seven of its first nine shots to start the half, which ended with Poole splashing back-to-back 3-pointers and Abdur-Rahkman hitting a jumper and two free throws to extend the lead to 51-42 at the 12:52 mark.
From there, the Wolverines were dialed in. They made six field goals in seven shot attempts to pull away, with Livers, Matthews and Abdur-Rahkman each hitting a 3-pointer during the span to make it 66-54 at the 6:36 mark.
A Wagner layup gave Michigan its largest lead, 73-59, roughly four minutes later and the Wolverines led Illinois (10-7, 0-4) by at least 10 points the rest of the way.
“The second half was all them,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “We opened the half with two unforced turnovers and we got to grow up. We put our head down, we quit fighting and we let what happens on the offensive end affect us.
“They got 14 wins for a reason. They're a veteran team and really put on a clinic in the second half against us.”
The first half was a different story as Michigan had trouble with Illinois’ pesky defense without its top two scorers.
Matthews picked up a foul 17 seconds into the game and Wagner followed suit at the 16:45 mark. As a result, the Wolverines struggled to find their footing and opened 2-for-10 from the field.
When Matthews checked back in at the 14:12 mark, he was whistled for his second foul less than a minute later after appearing to inadvertently clip an Illinois defender in the face with his elbow. He promptly returned to the bench, where he stayed the rest of the half.
But the game changed when the freshman duo of Poole and Livers spearheaded a 12-2 run to give Michigan a 25-23 lead with 4:06 left in the half.
Livers started the flurry with seven straight points on a 3-pointer and a pair of dunks to pull Michigan within a point. Then after Poole was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three free throws to tie it at 23, the Wolverines took the lead on an alley-oop from Poole to Livers.
“(That run) helped us with the game, but it also helps with experience,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “Those two young guys being in the game while making that run is big. It's big for their confidence and big for Coach's confidence, too, to believe that they can be in during tough situations in the game and be able to respond."
The teams jostled for the lead down the stretch, with Illinois making four of its last five field goals and scoring the last five points of the half to take a 34-31 edge into the break.
Kipper Nichols scored 17 and Greg Eboigbodin (U-D Jesuit) had 10 points and six rebounds for Illinois, which lost the turnover battle, 17-15, and was outscored 17-9 in points off turnovers.
“We had 12 turnovers in the first half, three in the second half. There's the difference in the game,” Beilein said. “Again, I don't think there's anything pretty about how we're playing. At the same time, we're finding ways still to get out in front of people and win games.”