Illini hang on to beat Michigan

By Courtney Linehan

After a series of games in which one struggled while the other starred, Illinois basketball’s seniors each showed confidence on the court Saturday, leading the No. 7 Illini to a 79-74 victory over Michigan.

Dee Brown scored 26 points in 40 minutes and James Augustine pitched in 23 – while hitting the bench early with foul trouble – to lead the Illini (16-1, 2-1). Illinois coach Bruce Weber said it was a big boost for the young Illini, who just a year ago had three times as many go-to players in big games.

“We have to get more people involved,” Weber said. “Wins or loses depends on what the other (Illini) do. Get Brian Randle to play a little better, get some shots between Jamar and Rich to ease the pressure on the other guys.”

While Illinois’ defense showed holes at times and the motion offense didn’t look as crisp as it did a year ago, the coach and his captains agreed that the most important thing was getting the Big Ten victory.

“We’re not doing the things we need to do, but we’ll take the win,” Brown said.

Michigan (11-3, 1-2) played a physical contest putting Illinois in the bonus less than 10 minutes into the game, but in doing so managed to stay in the game and even lead for almost four minutes of the first half. The Wolverines tried to break the Illini’s motion with a zone defense, but with a week to prepare for the game, Illinois was ready to fight.

Illinois took control in the second half, as Shaun Pruitt tipped in a bucket for two points and Augustine stole the Michigan inbound for another easy lay up. Brown sunk four 3-pointers to keep Illinois ahead as other Illini sprinkled in points throughout the half.

Michigan hung on, though, and briefly took the lead when Dion Harris made a pair of free throws with 4:01 left to play. Illinois pulled back ahead, but Daniel Horton made a 2-point shot with 18.9 seconds on the clock to put the Wolverines within a bucket of the win.

The Assembly Hall took to its feet and the crowd boomed as Michigan desperately tried to send Illinois to the line. Warren Carter sunk both free throws, and Brown did the same with .1 seconds on the clock, and Illinois finished ahead by five.

While this game would have been a lay-up for last year’s team, Augustine said it served as a learning experience for the 2006 Illini. The senior said the team will look at the film to study its flaws and find ways to build bigger margins of victory as it faces 13 more games in the Big Ten season.

“Every game is going to be a battle and you have to play 100 percent every time,” Augustine said. “I think the young guys are starting to realize that.”