Led by Davis, Illini down Wolverines 60-50

The Illinois men’s basketball team may have lost its unquestioned leader with Chester Frazier out indefinitely with a right hand injury. But the Illini played with the tenacity of their floor general, who cheered wildly from the sidelines, in a 60-50 Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal victory against No. 7 seed Michigan.

“I think tonight after Chester went down, it’s human nature to think we won’t play well,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. “I challenged them to step up and take a major step to be special. We needed people to be special. I think that happened.”

The Illini held a slim lead 27-26 advantage with 19:10 left in the second half but rattled off a 23-5 run to take a commanding 50-31 lead. The Wolverines, seeking another win to secure an NCAA Tournament berth, cut the deficit to 54-47 with 3:33 to go.

But the Illini (24-8) hung on to avoid a three-game losing streak heading into the NCAA Tournament. Illinois play No. 3 seed Purdue, which beat No. 6 Penn State Friday night 79-65, in the semifinal at 3:05 p.m.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” said senior Calvin Brock (six points and five rebounds). “You get a chance to get more wins to hopefully help us out with our NCAA Tournament bid. But it’s also a step closer to getting a Big Ten Tournament championship, which that is our goal right now.”

Sophomore Mike Davis led the Illini with 22 points and 10 rebounds, his 10th double-double of the season. Davis shot 6-of-7 from the field in the second half and hit a jumpshot with 3:01 remaining to stop a Michigan 13-0 run.

“In pregame warm-ups I didn’t miss,” Davis said. “So I was just like, ‘You know Coach, I think I’m going to have a good night tonight.’ I did. So I just kept shooting the ball. My teammates kept finding me, and I just got easy shots.”

Michigan (20-13), which shot 59.2 percent from the field in its opening round victory against Iowa, never found a rhythm offensively against a swarming Illini defense. The Wolverines shot just 33.3 percent from the field, including a 9-for-29 performance from beyond the arc.

With Frazier out, the question was how the Illini defense would be able to slow down first team All-Big Ten forward Manny Harris. But Brock, who took Frazier’s place in the lineup, was the main reason Harris had only nine points on 3-of-11 shooting.

“Coach and Chester, they told me to get into him, make him put the ball on the floor and not let him square up and shoot threes,” Brock said. “That’s what I tried to do, and I had great help defense from my teammates.”

Wolverines forward DeShawn Sims, who had averaged 23.4 points in the last four games, needed 19 shot attempts to score a team-high 15 points.

“The Illinois defense was terrific, and it usually is,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said. “It was very difficult. They really did a great job of keeping Manny from getting into comfortable positions.”

Demetri McCamey had 12 points for the Illini, while Trent Meacham added 10, including nine in a row during the Illini’s second-half run.

Illinois felt like it had a chip on its shoulders coming into Friday’s quarterfinal to prove the doubters that they could win without Frazier, the heart and soul of this surprising No. 2-seeded Illini team. With their victory against a desperate Michigan team, Illinois showed it isn’t going to throw its hopes for a Big Ten title to the wayside.

“If we can (beat Michigan) on a neutral court without who people think is our MVP or the heart of our team,” Weber said. “I think it shows a lot for our kids. We got another challenge tomorrow. We get to hang around a little bit, play another game and see if we can keep making progress.”