In what could be an ominous sign heading forward in Big Ten play, the depleted Illini struggled mightily in the second half of their conference opener, falling to Michigan, 78-68.
Caris LeVert and Mark Donnal had monster games for the Wolverines, combining to score 48 of the team's 78 points. Michigan was particularly deadly in the second half, shooting better than 48 percent from the field and hitting seven of the 14 3-point shots it cast up. The Wolverines outscored the Illini, 44-31, in the second half.
Illinois led by three after a closely contested first half. The game was tied at 16 with seven and a half minutes till halftime. After a Michigan bucket gave the Wolverines a small lead, Illinois went on a 13-4 run, started with eight straight points from Kendrick Nunn before 3-pointers from Malcolm Hill and Jalen Coleman-Lands. But that seven-point lead evaporated almost immediately as Michigan went on a 9-0 run to go in front once more. Coleman-Lands sandwiched a pair of triples around a Zak Irvin 3 to give the Illini a 37-34 lead at the break.
LeVert was terrific in the first 20 minutes, scoring 14 points. Nunn had 13 points, going 5-for-7 from the field, and Coleman-Lands scored 11 points, hitting three 3s. Illinois shot 50 percent in the first half, and Michigan shot 48.3 percent. The teams combined for 18 first-half turnovers, the Illini scoring 14 points off the Wolverines’ 10 giveaways.
But the second half was all Michigan. The Wolverines opened the half on a 9-2 run to grab a small lead, Donnal scoring seven of those points. After a Hill layup had Illinois down just a point five minutes into the half, though, Michigan went on a 14-4 run to create a double-digit lead, getting four 3-pointers from four different shooters during that stretch. That lead stretched out as big as 15 and never got smaller than seven, but by then it was too late for the Illini.
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Donnal scored 18 of his career-high 26 points over the final 20 minutes. LeVert had eight of his 22 in the second half, hitting a pair of 3s after halftime. He finished with 10 assists and five rebounds, as well.
Illinois shot just 35.7 percent from the field in the second half and went 3-for-12 from behind the 3-point line in the half. The Illini were out-rebounded, 38-27, on the day, and the Michigan bench outscored the Illinois reserves, 29-8.
Nunn finished with a team-high 23 points. Coleman-Lands scored just two second-half points to finish with 13. Hill had a rough shooting day, scoring 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
The Illini are still battling numerous injuries, with Leron Black remaining sidelined and Khalid Lewis sitting out of Wednesday's game with the mumps.
The loss sent Illinois to 8-6 on the season. Next up is a trip to Ohio State on Sunday.
The win to open conference play bumped Michigan to 11-3 on the season and was its ninth win in the last 10 games. The Wolverines face Penn State on Saturday.