Wolverines Catch Fire in Second Half to Defeat Illini

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The University of Michigan men's basketball team began its 2007 Big Ten season with a 71-61 victory over the University of Illinois Fighting Illini Wednesday night (Jan. 3) at a raucous Crisler Arena. Trailing midway through the first half the Wolverines (13-3, 1-0 Big Ten) turned up the intensity, holding the Illini scoreless for more than four-minutes as senior Lester Abram (Pontiac,Mich./Northern HS) connected on seven straight points to gain a six-point Michigan lead. Senior Dion Harris (Detroit,Mich./Redford HS), who gained momentum late in the first half, carried his strong play into the second half to net 17 points in the final 20 minutes of action to cap off the Wolverines first win of the New Year.

Abram led all scorers with 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field in addition to netting a perfect 6-for-6 from the free throw line. He also pulled down seven rebounds while dishing out three assists and adding a pair of blocks. Harris finished the game with 22 points on 8-for-16 shooting including 3-for-4 from beyond the arc. He finished three-for-three from the foul line and recorded four rebounds, two assists and a steal in 36-minutes of action.

Senior Courtney Sims (Boston,Mass./Noble & Greenough School) tallied eights points on 3-for-4 shooting and hauled in 10 rebounds with eight coming from the defensive glass. 

Illinois jumped out of the blocks quickly to gain an early 8-2 advantage more than four-minutes into the game. All of the Illini's points came from sophomore guard Jamar Smith who connected on a pair of early three-pointers. Entering the ballgame against U-M, Illinois ranked among the top five in the Big Ten in three-point percentage with 39.1-percent and finished the first half shooting 4-for-8 from beyond the arc.

The Wolverines battled back, attacking the Illini in the post to cut the lead to 9-8 at 12:39 in the first half. Sims got the ball rolling with a quick turnaround under the rim and a soft floater by sophomore Jerret Smith (Romulus,Mich./Romulus HS). Illinois' post struggles continued to the offensive end as a block by freshman Ekpe Udoh (Edmond,Okla./Santa Fe HS) on forward Warren Carter sparked a fastbreak dish from Smith to senior Brent Petway (McDonough,Ga./Griffin HS) for a massive dunk to bring the Wolverines to within one.

Michigan took its first lead of the night, 15-14, at 8:13 on an acrobatic bucket from Abram as the shot clock hit zero.  The basket capped off a 7-2 Wolverine run that featured a three-point play by Abram and a break-away jam by junior Ron Coleman (Romulus,Mich./Romulus HS).

Abram continued his hot play in the first half scoring seven straight points to extend the Wolverine lead to 22-16 with 5:38 remaining before halftime. He finished the first stanza with a game-high 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the field and a perfect 2-for-2 from the charity stripe. Abram also dished out an assist while pulling down a pair of rebounds in 16-minutes of action.

Harris picked up steam late to net the team's final five points to take a 29-25 lead into the break. The spurt by Harris came after the Illini fought back to tie the game at 22 on a Smith three-pointer at 3:17. Smith led the Illini with 10 first half points, shooting 4-for-7 from the field including a pair of treys.

Michigan outscored Illinois 16-to-6 in the paint during the first 20 minutes of the ballgame, while outrebounding the Illini 21-15 on the glass.

Harris carried his strong first-half finish into the second period, opening with a long range three-pointer to give the Wolverines a 32-25 advantage. The basket was just a preview of what was to come as the senior from Detroit would score 17-second half points, including a midrange bucket at 16:38 to retake a 34-33 lead following a quick 8-0 Illinois run.

After playing nip and tuck basketball over the next four minutes, the Wolverine lead widened to 47-41 as a three-pointer by Harris whipped the Crisler crowd into a frenzy with more than 12-minutes remaining in the contest. Another long range shot by Harris, paired with a three from freshmen Reed Baker (Fort Myers,Fla./Bishop Verot HS), stretched the Michigan advantage to 53-41 at 10:27, the Wolverines' largest lead of the night.

Illinois would never get closer than four points throughout the rest of the game as Michigan turned back to Abram, who scored 11 of the Maize and Blue's final 18 points. The Wolverines finished the game netting eight straight free throws to cap off the 71-61 victory over the Illini. The win marked U-M head coach Tommy Amaker's 100th career victory in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines will hit the road for the first time in conference play as the Maize and Blue head to Evanston, Ill., Saturday (Jan. 6) for a game at Northwestern at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Tipoff for the game against the Wildcats will be 1:32 p.m. CST, and it will be broadcast as part of the ESPN-Plus package.

Contact: Tom Wywrot (734) 763-4423

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