ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Strong surges at the end of both halves enabled Illinois (No. 21 AP, No. 14 ESPN/USA Today) to pull out a 68-60 victory over the University of Michigan in Big Ten Conference men's basketball action Thursday (Feb. 7) at Crisler Arena.
The Fighting Illini (16-7, 5-5 Big Ten), who trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half, closed the first period with an 11-0 run to lead 32-30 at the break, and Illinois closed the game with a 13-3 burst in the game's final four minutes to earn its first league road victory, halting Michigan's three-game home winning streak.
Michigan (9-11, 4-6 Big Ten) received a valiant effort from senior tri-captain Leon Jones (Battle Creek, Mich./Winchendon Prep [Mass.]), who scored a season-high 14 points in the loss. Illinois' Brian Cook led all players with 19 points and tied Michigan's Chris Young (Plymouth, Mich./Catholic Central HS) for game-high honors with nine rebounds.
Michigan came out flying to start the contest as it went on an 8-2 run in the opening minutes. Herb Gibson (Taylor, Mich./Truman HS), starting for the second straight game, opened the scoring with a free throw 20 seconds in and Jones contributed five straight points. Illinois attempted to bounce back, but Jones continued to carry the Wolverines with an aggressive drive through the lane to an authoritative dunk. Three points from Bernard Robinson Jr. (Washington, D.C./New Hampton Prep [N.H.]) gave U-M an 18-10 advantage with 11:54 in the half.
Michigan continued its control of the scoreboard with two more points coming as a result of an impressive behind-the-back, between-the-legs dribble by Robinson and a key three-pointer from Dommanic Ingerson (Santa Barbara, Calif./Santa Barbara HS). Two free throws gave Michigan its largest lead of the game with 6:10 remaining, 27-14. However, an 18-3 run over the final six minutes brought Illinois all the way back. Luther Head converted a layup as time expired to give the Illini their first lead of the game, 32-30.
Michigan was led in the first half by Robinson and Jones, who had eight and seven points, respectively, while Illinois relied heavily on Cook, whose 14 points included the first 12 of the game for his team. Cook was impressive on the boards, pacing his team with nine rebounds.
A steal by Young led to a Jones three-pointer to give U-M the lead back at 18:52, and the teams traded baskets in the ensuing minutes with the scoreboard reading 39-39 with just over 15 minutes to play.
An alley-oop from Robinson to LaVell Blanchard (Ann Arbor, Mich./Pioneer HS) at 14:37 brought the crowd to life once again as Michigan regained the lead. The Illini battled back on a 7-0 run that allowed them to take a three-point advantage. Back-to-back Ingerson triples inside 11 minutes to play gave Michigan what would be its largest lead of the final period, 49-46. Two minutes later, a Sean Harrington three-pointer gave Illinois a two-point cushion.
With 3:08 remaining in the game, Frank Williams gave Illinois the lead for good with two free throws. A U-M free throw cut the lead back to one but a three-point basket by Cook at 2:23 put the Illini up four. The Wolverines were able to cut the lead to two but went 0-for-4 from the field in the final minute, allowing Illinois to ice the game from the line.
The Maize and Blue closes out its three-game Crisler Arena homestand on Saturday morning (Feb. 9, 11 a.m.) against Penn State. Michigan opened its Big Ten season with a 67-63 win over the Nittany Lions on Jan. 2 in State College, Pa.
Contact: Tom Wywrot (734) 763-4423