Five Key Plays: Illinois at Michigan


1. Evan Smotrycz’s 12-point first half paces Michigan early

It’s no secret that Evan Smotrycz has struggled as of late. Since the Big Ten season began, the sophomore had notched a double digit point-total just twice. We’ve been waiting for Smotrycz to have a break-out game in which he shows what everybody knows he’s capable of. Finally, on Sunday, we got it. And nobody is probably happier about it than Smotrycz himself. In the first half against Illinois, Smotrycz had a team-high 12 points and played a huge role in the Wolverines’ 37-31 halftime lead. Smotrycz got going early the way any struggling shooter is told to — by attacking the rim. He didn’t convert the bucket inside off a back screen from Jordan Morgan and back-door pass from Tim Hardaway Jr., but he drew the foul and hit both free throws. Not long after, Smotrycz got his three-point stroke going and hit one from the right wing off an assist from Stu Douglass. After the game, Smotrycz said that hitting that three was a huge boost to his confidence, and it showed. Following the three, Smotrycz not only stayed hot himself but also helped get his teammates involved. With 10:21 to go in the half, he found an open Hardaway, who has also struggled as of late, for an easy two. Then he got it going defensively and forced an Illinois turnover off an inbounds pass. Not long after, Smotrycz found another teammate who has struggled this season — Matt Vogrich — for an easy two of his own off a nice back cut. After a pull up jumper and two more points off a pair of free throws, Smotrycz ended his first-half scoring with another 3-pointer. He finished the game with 13 points, three rebounds and a career-high four steals. Michigan has missed Smotrycz’s production for most of this season yet has still found a way to win. Now, if Smotrycz can stay hot and continue to produce down the stretch, there’s no telling how far this team can go.

2. Missed opportunities at the end of the half allow the Fighting Illini to close the gap

With a nine-point lead and just over two minutes to play in the first half, Michigan had a couple of golden opportunities to head into the break with a double digit lead. First, the Wolverines forced a jump ball and gained possession, but couldn’t convert on the other end after Burke missed badly on a highly contested lay in. From there, it was ugly basketball to end the half. Illinois treated the ball as though it was a hot potato on two consecutive possessions, but the Wolverines couldn’t take advantage offensively. On a 2-on-1 break, Burke decided to take it to the hoop himself with Douglass to his left. On a layup attempt that Burke would probably make 99 times out of 100, the ball rimmed out and Illinois grabbed the board. On Michigan’s next offensive possession, Burke had another easy attempt, this time an open jumper from about 10 feet out. But once again Burke couldn’t convert. On the Fighting Illini’s next possession, they finally made the Wolverines pay with a 3-pointer by Tyler Griffey a basket that was created by Stu Douglass over-helping off the shooter. The Wolverines came up empty on the final possession of the half, and instead of leading by at least 11 had Burke been able to convert, Michigan went into the break with just a six point lead, 37-31.

3. Novak and Douglass respond after Illinois cuts the lead to five

There were few times in the second half in which the Fighing Illini truly threatened to tighten the gap, but when they made their biggest push early in the half, Michigan’s seniors stepped up. After Illinois had cut the lead to just five following another 3-pointer by Griffey, Novak hit a three of his own to put the lead back up to eight. Moments later, Douglass grabbed the defensive board and went coast-to-coast, finishing with a nice right handed layup in traffic to push the lead back into double digits with just over 15 minutes to play. Both Douglass and Novak have stepped up in big moments time and time again this season, and this is just another example of two senior leaders hitting shots at times when the Wolverines need them most.

4. Matt Vogrich’s 3-pointers, scrappy play gives much-needed spark off the bench

Prior to Michigan’s win at Nebraska on Wednesday, Matt Vogrich had made seven three-point attempts all season. In the game at Nebraska and the home win against Illinois Sunday, Vogrich nearly matched that with five total. He hit two big 3-pointers Sunday, but that wasn’t all. Against Illinois, Vogrich played his role off the bench almost to perfection. He was aggressive on defense, he hit shots when he was open, he took a charge and he annoyed the heck out of the Fighting Illini with his scrappy play, each of which is featured in this sequence. That’s exactly what John Beilein wants to see out of Vogrich when he comes in off the bench, and if Vogrich can continue to carry this newfound momentum into the final couple of weeks of the season, he could play a huge factor in Michigan’s success.

5. Tim Hardaway Jr. shuts the door on the Illini with a couple late buckets

After Michigan held a comfortable double-digit lead for much of the second half, the Fighting Illini had one final push left in them to try to make this a game. With 5:05 to go, Brandon Paul hit a bucket and drew the foul to cut the deficit to seven and Illinois was still alive. But not long after, the Wolverines buried the Illini with a fast break bucket and a pair of free throws by Hardaway. The first of the two plays started with a steal on the other end by Morgan. The ball bounced out to Hardaway, who was immediately off to the races with Burke by his side. Hardaway dished it to Burke, who drove to the hoop and passed the ball back to Hardaway, who made a nice catch and finish in tight quarters. After Illinois came up empty on its next possession, Hardaway took advantage to put the game away. With an open lane to the bucket, Hardaway drove right into the lane and drew the hard foul from Leonard. He hit the two free throws to give Michigan an 11-point lead with 2:24 to go, and this one was all but over.

  • Graham Brown

     Great job! I look forward to 5 key plays after every game.

    Great to see Vogrich and Smotrycz getting it done.

  • ChocoJoe

    Is this the most minutes Vogrich has played this season?

    • He played 18 yesterday. He played 21 against Pine Buff and also 18 against Iowa. 

  • Indiana_Matt

    great stuff.

    This is, I know, comparatively unimportant but can they just put the cap back on the highlighter and give us uniforms with yellow that resembles the shade that trims the “M” at center court? Please. In the first video still you can see the contrast. It ain’t much, but then again it really is.

    • rlcBlue

      If I ever encountered an ear of corn the color of our uniforms, I would be unsure how to dispose of it safely. I sure as hell wouldn’t eat it…

      • Indiana_Matt

        hahaha. maybe someone should send Adidas an ear of corn. also, lets specify we don’t want a template uniform that shows up on Nebraska just in different colors.

      • JimC

        hilarious, nicely done

    • A State Fan

      I was thinking about this yesterday, and I think I might like the highlighter yellow for basketball. Not for football though.  I think having all maize jerseys in basketball would look weird/outdated, whereas the maize pant in football would look good

    • Prigby

      I commented on that early in the season.  at least have the Uniforms and floor paint match.

    • MGoTweeter

      Brandon has said multiple times that they are trying to go back to the original shade of yellow or close to it.  They also want to get all the block M’s the same and get rid of the block M with Michigan written through it.  He is all about branding and having a uniform image that he can sell.  I have also heard, from people in the marketing industry, that not all shades of color look the same on different mediums.  So you could use the same shade on the court and unis, but they might look different just because of the material that they are on.  

      That said, I agree with state fan.  I like the all maize (highlighter yellow) uniforms in basketball.  I would not want the mid-80s all yellow unis.  But the ones that the fab five wore all-yellow, I don’t recall being so neon and they looked good.  So maybe there is a middle ground they can find that will work.  

  • JimC

    What is it about Illinois that just isn’t right?  Maybe they don’t play together, or maybe it’s a toughness thing, or maybe it’s the coach.  Just seems like they should have more wins with that talent.


  • Blazerine

    Great 5 clips here. Thanks so much for doing this. For hoops junkies like me, it just doesn’t get any better, unless you’d do a whole UFR like brian  (mgoblog) lol. For me this team’s potential hinges on a guy like Evan. When he plays with confidence like he did today he can be a nightmare matchup at the 4. I forget how GREAT a passer this kid really is. He makes his share of dumb turnovers but boy does he make some nice passes as well.

    When he’s shooting well and crashing the boards he is a DIFFERENCE maker. I really believe with some experience and coaching he can be an all conference guy. If he can learn to cut down on silly fouls, silly turnovers, and keeping his confidence. Michigan truly can do anything. Especially when Timmy is playing like his usual self.

    Michigan has missed Smotrycz’s production for most of this season yet has still found a way to win. Now, if Smotrycz can stay hot and continue to produce down the stretch, there’s no telling how far this team can go.   (couldn’t have said it better myself)

    The fact that we’ve hung tough the past few weeks going 4-3 through that tough stretch without these guys speaks SO HIGHLY of what Coach B and the staff are doing…and that’s without a backup 5…Horford out. 

    This is a fun/scary team to watch. They have me shaking my head so many times but at other times…watching them is a thing of beauty. 

    P.S. I LOVED the defensive intensity Tim adn Evan played with this game. Now if we can keep that fire. Impossible is nothing.


  • Mattski

    Nice work, as always; I am thrilled that Smot and Hardaway have started hitting. (They are roommates; was it the water?) One play I might have considered using was Novak’s almost-half-court bounce pass to Stu for the layup. I didn’t realize until I saw the highlights at what a marvel that thing was. 

    • sane1

      Play of the game at both ends. Great pass and super finish by Stu. Second best was Stu’s hesitation move a drive to the hoop.

  • Wayman Britt

    Going to need Evan to continue to play respectable defense against Ohio.

    Would like to see him be not afraid to dive after a ball, one possession could be huge.

  • sane1

    I’m sure that this was a big game for Vogrich since Paul was a high school rival of his. They had a few epic battles.

  • GoBlue

    Sidenote on Smot… “Since the Big Ten season began, the sophomore has notched a double-digit point total just once…”  Pretty sure he had a double-double w/ points & rebounds against PSU in home opener, right?