It’s alright if you still can’t believe it. Even John Beilein couldn’t quite wrap his head around it after the game. (Photo: Dustin Johnston)
I’m not talking about Michigan winning its first outright Big Ten championship since 1986. While it’s hard to believe it’s been that long, Michigan fans have been coming to terms with this possibility for a few games now. In fact, at this point, it was expected that Michigan wrap up the title race, if not in this game then in the next one.
What Beilein couldn’t quite understand, and what could possibly be difficult for any diligent basketball observer to understand, is what Michigan did in the first half of its 84-53 shellacking of Illinois on Tuesday night in Champaign.
The Wolverines scored 52 points in the first half, more than Illinois’ past four opponents had scored the entire game. Michigan’s effective field goal percentage was a staggering 87.5, aided by its 11-for-14 shooting from beyond the arc. The whole thing had an element of the unbelievable to it; how could a team possibly play this well?
“Right now, I’m trying to put it together, how we could have played that well tonight,” Beilein told reporters after the game, standing on a court his Michigan team had so decisively conquered just an hour or so earlier.
Of all the blissfully incomprehensible occurrences during Michigan’s romp through Champaign, it was Nik Stauskas whose myth grew the most legendary. Stauskas scored 24 points on 11 shots, including seven made 3-pointers. The sophomore was utterly unstoppable against a team that prides itself on, well, stopping people. The Illini are ranked 14th in the country in defensive efficiency and had shut down Michigan State, Nebraska, Minnesota and Ohio State in their last four games.