There was no secret as to what was on the line Saturday afternoon at the Crisler Center. The Wolverines were hosting a team that kicked their ass 10 days ago and called them out afterward. They were also hosting a team that has been terrible away from home.

Michigan, sitting below .500 in the Big Ten, needed this win (and a few more coming up). Losing at home to Illinois would have sunk the conference record to 2-5 with much of the heavy lifting remaining.

The Wolverines played like they needed it and controlled the game throughout with a defense-first showing. They led by by 21 points with 5:57 to play before before sputtering to the finish line for a 9-point win.

After going scoreless at Wisconsin, DJ Wilson carried Michigan early and finished with 19 points, 7 rebounds and five assists. Eventually he got help from seniors Derrick Walton — 13 points and 11 rebounds — and Zak Irvin — 15 points — who both reached double-figures in the win.

Most importantly, Michigan played defense. The Wolverines held the Illini to 57 points in 66 possessions, their best defensive performance since mid-December.

Michigan did a terrible job closing this game out — the Wolverines didn’t make a shot for the final 5:57 — and that damaged some of the final efficiency numbers, but this was still a solid showing. Despite that sloppy late game execution and despite some late game no-foul prevent-type defense (that still resulted in several fouls) this was Michigan’s best defensive performance in Big Ten play at .87 PPP allowed.

The Michigan offense scored just 1.01 points per trip and the final numbers weren’t pretty  – on par with Michigan’s four worst offensive showings of the season — but I thought the U-M offense actually executed quite well. There were open shots and open cutters, but Michigan went through some brutal cold stretches from the floor. They also made just 14-of-22 free throws (Michigan ranks 6th nationally in FT%).

Turnovers were a big story throughout. Both teams struggled to hold onto the ball, but Michigan won out in that department. The Wolverines gave the ball away once every five possessions, but Illinois gave it away on 26% of its offensive trips. The net result was that Michigan outscored the Illini 22-12 in points off turnovers. Michigan also made up for the sloppy offense with a good offensive rebounding performance — rebounding a third of its missed shots for 14 second chance points.

Look back to the first meeting and it was Illinois that dominated the glass on both ends. I thought there was notable defensive improvement by Michigan. The Wolverines did a much better job helping and recovering in the ball screen game and they also held up to three or four Maverick Morgan post-ups early on and didn’t have to double. Guys like Kipper Nichols and Leron Black, who punked the Wolverines at times in Champaign, were relative non-factors.

Those are all encouraging signs, but the real test is coming up next as the Hoosiers head to Ann Arbor. That was a win that Michigan needed, but there’s still plenty of work to go. Next up is an Indiana team that boasts the best offense in the conference and isn’t nearly as straightforward to defend. A win would even Michigan’s conference record at 4-4 with three rivalry games on deck.

Player Bullets

  • DJ Wilson: There are these 6 or 7 minute stretches where DJ Wilson looks like a pro. He dominated the first half today to help the Wolverines to their initial lead. He scored on a driving scoop shot, knocked in a three, had a putback dunk, several putbacks through contact — all while playing solid defensively. He finished with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists (of Michigan’s 8) and a block in 39 minutes.
  • Zak Irvin: This is one of those Zak Irvin games that’s hard to grade. I thought he did a very good job defensively against Malcolm Hill (who had 5 turnovers to 5 FGs) although watching the two go head-to-head is kind of a reminder of why they are both still around. Irvin had several nice baseline drives and finishes at the rim, including a filthy stop-and-go that had Hill on skates. He also was just 1-of-5 from three and had 4 turnovers to 0 assists.
  • Derrick Walton: Walton grabbed 11 rebounds for a double-double and I thought Michigan made a concerted effort to get back to its traditional rebounding strategy of sending Walton hard to the glass. It worked in several ways, first off Illinois only rebounded 23% of its misses, second it jumpstarted Michigan in transition a bit. U-M isn’t a great outlet passing team and Walton ripping down a rebound and pushing the break helps. He was 4-of-10 from the floor, but 3-of-6 inside the arc including a great and-one drive and a pair of elbow jumpers. He blew a fastbreak layup, but overall I thought he did a good job of attacking down hill.
  • Moritz WagnerWagner really struggled offensively early on as he missed a couple open threes and forced a couple of moves to the basket. But he hung in there and a hit a couple of open triples (it seems like Michigan can get that shot whenever it wants) and had a nice drive and finish from the block.
  • Xavier SimpsonQuiet offensively except for a nice lookahead assist in transition, Simpson still gave Michigan some quality minutes in the first half. I was surprised to see he only played 5 minutes for the game because U-M also went with a Walton-Simpson backcourt for a few minutes in the first.
  • Duncan Robinson: Robinson hit a big three in the first half, but two quick fouls (one offensive, one defensive on back-to-back possessions) curtailed his ability to make an impact offensively in the first half. He never really found the game after that and had a couple of sloppy turnovers and in 15 minutes.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-RahkmanIt was a quiet night fort he junior guard who was just 1-of-3 from the floor and 2-of-5 at the free throw line.
  • Mark DonnalDonnal scored on a nice high-low pass from Wilson against the 2-3 zone, but really struggled otherwise. He was whistled for 4 fouls in 9 minutes and didn’t record a rebound.
  • Jon TeskeTeske played a minute in the first half and had a nice defensive possession, but he looks lost offensively. He caught one around the basket, but passed it out rather than going up with it. Irvin drove and got to the line off the action, but Teske doesn’t quite seem confident around the hoop.
  • Ibi WatsonWatson saw a quick first half stint off the bench and missed a late clock step-back jumper (which was followed up by DJ Wilson).
  • jlustig22

    Good win. Nice to see a box score where the opposing team goes 2/12 from 3. That’s 8/28 in the last 2 games. Knew there would be definite regression as there’s no way teams could keep shooting 57% from 3 on us. Some it is definitely better defense but some it is also luck.

    We played really well defensively though. Probably the hardest we’ve played on that end this year. DJ played a great all around game. Nice to see him hit the offensive glass hard. No reason for him not to be a factor there with his length. His defensive rebounding still needs work but I thought he played excellent defensively for the 2nd game in a row.

    Not sure why we stopped playing the last 5 minutes. I know we wanted to burn clock but we still could have run our offense instead of just dribbling for 30 seconds and throwing up a terrible shot.

    Fatigue might have played a factor too but for some reason Beilein refused to call one his 3 TO’s to give his team a break. It also might help to use your bench more but I’ve given up on Beilein doing that. He’s going to play his starters huge minutes no matter what and not rely on his bench. Doesn’t seem like that’s going to ever change under him.

  • Champswest

    Good win. Irvin, Walton and Wilson with 36, 37 and 39 minutes is going to catch up with us. In fact, the way we shot in the last few minutes, it probably already has.

    • Wayman Britt

      Good point, you really could tell they were tired at the end. But, I was really impressed with the improvement in defense.

  • MaizeBlue10

    I find it funny today was a top 50 RPI win. Normally a great resume win.

    I don’t think Illinois will stay anywhere near their current number but as of today, great resume win haha.

  • Coltrane

    I’m really confused why Simpson didn’t get some second half minutes especially in a game where they had some cushion. I know Beilein talked about closing out games so maybe it was about that…he certainly will have something to talk about after that late game performance.

    • robpollard

      Unfortunately, Belein has typically been pretty bad about giving backups minutes in games UM has a big lead. Overall, a very good game, but X at this point should be trusted enough to play more than 5 minutes. He needs to play more.

      • Mattski

        Regrettably, he’s just not all that bright, especially for a guy that makes the millions that he does.

  • bobohle

    I’m glad that JB is going to leave Donlan’s Street Fight message on the wall the rest of the year. I really feel sad for Mark Donnal he just seems disinterested almost all the time. Duncan just needs to get more hand strength. He has opportunity for many rebounds. He just has trouble holding on. Kind of like Doyle last year.

    • Wayman Britt

      I agree about Donnal. I understand he is a quiet kid, but he looks like he really does not want to be playing. I think he knows he is not coming back next year and just wants to graduate and move on. With that, I would like to see Teske get more of his minutes. We don’t see practices, but would Teske be that much of a down grade from Donnal? If not better?

  • Mattski
  • Fab 5 Legends

    big games coming up…indiana, mich st, ohio state @ home would be nice wins considering our Ls to Illinois & Iowa do not look good since they are in the bottom half of the bigten standings