No. 15 Illini men’s basketball fights off pesky Wolverines, leaves Ann Arbor with 93-85 road win


Cameron Krasucki

Sophomore guard Andre Curbelo celebrates from the bench during Illinois’ loss to Ohio State at State Farm Center on Thursday.

By Christian Jones, Staff Writer

Needing a win to stay in the Big Ten title race, No. 15 Illinois battled unranked Michigan at Crisler Arena on Sunday. The Illini arrived in Ann Arbor following an upset loss to Ohio State at home last Thursday and pulled out an 93-85 road win. 

Michigan (15-12, 9-8) had lost four of their last 10 games, but a win against a red-hot Rutgers team gave the Wolverines momentum. Illinois (20-8, 13-5) played its second straight game with a full-roster, a rarity for head coach Brad Underwood this season.

Two Wolverines returned from suspension on Sunday. Freshman Moussa Diabate and sophomore Terrance Williams II sat out one game after an altercation against Wisconsin.

Junior center Kofi Cockburn scored the first first points of the day from the post, but Michigan’s Caleb Houstan immediately matched him on the other end. The Illini went to Cockburn again on the next possession, and as he was doubled, he found fifth-year senior guard Trent Frazier open for a three, giving Illinois an early 5-2 lead.

A few early foul calls gave Michigan sophomore Hunter Dickinson and Devante’ Jones their first points of the night at the free-throw line.

Graduate student guard Alfonso Plummer went 1-for-2 from the arc before being subbed out for sophomore guard Andre Curbelo at the 16-minute mark. 

Less than two minutes later, Plummer was back on the court. In 60 seconds he hit two deep balls and connected on an and-one from mid-range, giving Illinois a 20-14 lead with 12:53 to go in the half.

Michigan’s Eli Brooks connected on a mid-range pullup to close the lead to four. A steal plus a fastbreak bucket from Jones brought Michigan closer. 

Fortunately for the Illini, Plummer connected from deep again, this time barely getting one to drop from the right corner, stretching the lead to five. Michigan acting head coach Phil Martelli immediately called a timeout.

On the other end, the Wolverines began to sputter on offense. A charge was called on Jones at the top of the key, drawn by none other than Plummer.

Offensively the Illini had played through Plummer, but threes from Frazier and sophomore forward Coleman Hawkins kept Illinois afloat as Plummer took his second break.

Houstan appeared to be Michigan’s most aggressive player on offense, as he went 3-for-3 from the field and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line as he tried to keep Illinois from running away with it.

Cockburn and Dickinson were very physical in the paint, but neither took many shots.  The Illini big man scored his fourth basket of the night over a completely vertical Dickinson, giving Illinois an eight-point lead.

Another squandered possession for Michigan left Plummer open for three again, and to no one’s surprise he hit his fifth 3-pointer of the half, giving Illinois a 38-27 lead.

Dickinson was fouled on the other end but only made one free throw. Following Dicksinon’s make, Frazier found himself open after a screen and hit another jumper, quieting the Michigan faithful.

Following a contested layup from Houstan, the Illini led by eight, and Hawkins decided to embarrass the home team.

After drawing his defender to the perimeter with a pump fake, Hawkins euro-stepped past another Michigan defender and tossed up a floater, which bounced off at the perfect angle for him to slam it in one-handed. 

Each team made just one field goal in the last 60 seconds of the half, and the Illini led, 46-38, at halftime.

In the second half Illinois went to its work-horse. Cockburn scored three-straight baskets over Dickinson before Jones got the Wolverines on the board in the second. 

Jones was responsible for Michigan’s first three baskets in the second half. After he scored, Jones assisted Diabate and Dickinson on baskets. Dickinson’s three cut Illinois’ lead to single digits, and his dunk 30 seconds later made it a 54-47 game.

Following a media timeout with 15 minutes left in the game, Curbelo scored four straight points for the Illini, the second basket coming on a mid-range snatch-back pullup.

Jones continued to be effective for Michigan. He hit another jumper to keep Michigan within 10, but on the next possession he fouled Frazier on a jump shot, which he made. Frazier missed the freebie, but a freshman guard Luke Goode offensive rebound led to a Cockburn slam, which extended the lead to 13.

With 10 minutes remaining, the Illini led by 10, 69-59. Diabate smothered Hawkins in the post, but Hawkins was able to find Grandison cutting to the basket for an easy layup.

On the other end Hawkins fouled Houstan, who made both free-throws, but Plummer negated those points with his sixth triple of the night. That basket gave Illinois its biggest lead of the night, 15 points.

Diabate single-handedly went on a 5-0 run, hitting a free throw, a jump shot and a layup just before the clock hit nine minutes.

Cockburn got to the line and hit two free throws, stemming the tide momentarily, but the momentum had already swung.

Diabate hit two more free throws, and Grandison fouled Jones on a three, leading to three more Wolverine free throws. 

On the other end, Houstan slapped the ball off Cockburn’s leg giving Michigan possession, and Jones hit a three that capped off a 12-2 run for Michigan. With 6:30 left in the game, Illinois led, 76-71.

Baskets from Curbelo and Frazier brought the Illini out of their slump, but after Jones scored again, cutting the lead to six, Curbelo took a hit in the head and went to the floor. He did not leave the game, but he was shaken up.

When play resumed the Illini led 81-77. With the crowd fully engaged, Frazier drove into a wall of yellow jersey and was forced to throw a shot up. Cockburn grabbed the rebound but missed as well. Hawkins grabbed the next board and was fouled by Dickinson.

Up four with just over two minutes remaining, Hawkins missed a free-throw and made the other. The teams traded misses until Houstan knocked down a fastbreak three with 2:03 on the clock, cutting the lead to two points.

Cockburn dropped a contested hook over Dickinson, which temporarily silenced the home crowd. When the refs elected not to call a foul as Jones received contact on the other end, the crowd was loud again.

With 90 seconds remaining and a four-point lead, the Illini walked the ball up the court. After a few drive-and-kicks, Frazier found Grandison open for a three, which he didn’t make. Hawkins grabbed a clutch offensive rebound and gave it back to Frazier.

Frazier was guarded well by Houstan, but as the shot clock ran down, Frazier hesitated stepped back and drilled a dagger over the Michigan freshman. This gave Illinois an 87-80 lead with 45 seconds left.

Free-throws and an alley-oop in transition from Frazier to Cockburn ended a hot shooting night for Illinois. The final score was 93-85.

Cockburn and Plummer led Illinois with 27 and 26 points respectively. Frazier had 17 points and Curbelo scored 12 with three assists.



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