In the first half against Illinois, Michigan played poorly, with sloppy defense and rebounding. Illinois led by three at the half, thanks to a 21-13 rebounding victory, including eight offensive rebounds. On offense, Michigan looked like a mess, running unproductive ball movement instead of attacking.
The second half was a totally different story, thanks to two players, primarily. Trey Burke took over, giving himself yet another dominant game on the season. While it won’t show on the stat sheet as much as Burke, Jordan Morgan was terrific in the second half.
Burke did it on the offensive end, scoring 26 points and adding eight assists. He stuffed the stat sheet in an efficient manner, knocking down 8-11 shots, 2-3 on three pointers and 8-10 from the line. Burke was a part of 16 out of Michigan’s 25 field goals Sunday, by either scoring or assisting. With another spectacular performance, Burke showed why he deserves to be the player of the year favorite right now.
A Michigan player with a lot less glory surrounding him is Morgan. Yet, he came up huge against Illinois, doing all of the little things. Morgan was very good on defense, especially after Mitch McGary got in foul trouble. Whenever Morgan came on the floor, Michigan went on a big run. Morgan may have only scored two points, but after Burke, he was definitely the most valuable Wolverine. When Michigan, thanks to Morgan, stopped letting Illinois own the offensive glass, the game turned in their favor.
Other than the great play of Burke and Morgan, the major reason for the 43-27 second half for Michigan was the disappearance of Illinois’ stars. Brandon Paul did not attempt a shot in the second half. Not one. That means that when the ball left Paul’s hand in the second half, it was more likely to be a turnover (two), than a shot attempt. There are very few teams in the country that can beat a good team on the road with their best player not taking a shot in the second half, if any. I don’t understand what Paul is thinking sometimes, and I know Illinois fans feel the same way. DJ Richardson was not much better, scoring just four second half points. Tyler Griffey really kept Illinois in the game, midway through the second half, scoring eight consecutive points for them.
For Michigan, Nik Stauskas was also a no-show on Sunday. He was held scoreless on five shots in 26 minutes of play. Stauskas has had a bad track record of playing well in big games, and that continued against Illinois.
In the second half, while Burke took over and Michigan defended and rebounded better, Illinois’ stars disappeared, turning a close game in to a relative blowout.
In the grand scheme of things, this does more good for Michigan than harm for Illinois. Michigan still has a good shot at getting a no. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament, and an outside shot at a top seed. Illinois stays in the 8 to 9 seed range, despite the loss. It would take a lot to get them out of that spot down the stretch this season.