WASHINGTON — Michigan was grounded Wednesday when the team plane slid off the runway and kept the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
But by Thursday afternoon, Michigan was flying high.
D.J. Wilson's soaring alley-oop slam and subsequent leaping celebration at midcourt showed the Wolverines weren't at all affected, basketball-wise, by their travel ordeal the day before, when high winds forced an aborted takeoff, a scary slide off the runway and extensive damage to the plane. The team arrived in Washington just a few hours before Thursday's game, the start of which was delayed 20 minutes so Michigan would have the full allotted time to warm up.
But it was Illinois that played like it was the team just a few hours removed from a days-long quest to reach the nation's capital, blown out by Michigan in a 75-55 decision at the Big Ten Tournament.
The Wolverines obliterated the Illini defense to the tune of 75 points on 53.6-percent shooting. Michigan scored 16 points off 14 Illinois turnovers and held a 12-0 edge in fast-break points.
Meanwhile, the Illini's brightest star was practically absent, Malcolm Hill scoring just four points on 1-for-8 shooting. Tracy Abrams, though, playing in one of his final collegiate games, had a career day with 23 points.
Michigan was amped for the start of this one, practice jerseys and all, and decimated the Illinois defense with red-hot shooting, shooting 59.3 percent over the opening 20 minutes. The shots kept falling as the Wolverines hit five first-half 3-pointers and capitalized on nine first-half Illini turnovers for 12 points.
But Illinois made its own energetic charge late in the half, sparked by Abrams, who rattled off 10 straight points to cut Michigan's game-high 20-point lead in half. Though Abrams left the game immediately after, picking up his second foul, the Illini run stretched to 15-2 and chopped the gap down to seven before a breakaway slam and a 3-pointer from Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman rebuilt a double-digit lead and halted the momentum. The Illini trailed by 11 at the half.
Abrams seemed to pick up where he left off to start the second half, knocking down a 3 for the period's first basket, but Michigan had its lead extended back to 14 a little more than four minutes out of halftime and led by as many as 18 before the period's midway point. Despite Michigan cooling off from the field in the second half and Abrams continuing to pile up points, the margin stayed at double figures. Illinois got it within 10 in the game's final minutes, but Derrick Walton Jr. hit a couple big shots to keep the Michigan lead comfortable.
Zak Irvin polished off a fast break with a dunk, and Wilson hit a 3, giving Michigan another 20-point lead in the game's final minute.
The first-game exit for the Illini figures to dash any remaining NCAA tournament hopes once and for all. Surprisingly, Illinois reached the NCAA tournament bubble with a late-season win streak and even more surprisingly remained on that bubble despite a loss at Rutgers in the regular-season finale.
Additionally, with a now expected fourth straight season without an NCAA tournament invite, John Groce's job status will be an intense talking point. His seat is at hot as it gets.
What a feel-good story Michigan's win is, meanwhile, what with all the Wolverines had to endure in the 24 hours leading up to the game. Advancing to play top-seeded Purdue on Friday, one wonders if Michigan will keep the practice-uniform look and its good mojo.