Illini men’s basketball loses 3rd straight game

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — For the third straight game, the Illinois men’s basketball team allowed its opponent to shoot above 50 percent from the field.

And for the third straight game, the Illini lost.

No. 25 Michigan dominated Illinois on shooting Sunday at the Crisler Arena to win 70-61 and move within a half game of Big Ten leaders Ohio State and Michigan State.

“I thought if you could keep it close and give yourself a chance to win on the road, that’s what you try to do,” Illini head coach Bruce Weber said. “Just too many turnovers.”

Illinois, meanwhile, falls to 5-7 in the conference and 16-9 overall, putting it into a tie for seventh place with Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa.

The Wolverines (19-7, 9-4 Big Ten) were particularly dangerous on their 3-point attempts, finishing 7-for-16 from beyond the arc.

It wasn’t just any single player who took over the game, either. Michigan ended the game with four players scoring in double digits, with Tim Hardaway Jr. leading the team with 15 points on the day. Trey Burke finished with 14, while Evan Smotrycz and Zack Novak netted 13 and 12, respectively.

Matt Vogrich also fared well for the Wolverines, scoring eight points on 3-of-3 shooting.

“When their worst two 3-point shooters go 4-for-4 — Hardaway and Smotrycz — in the first half, it’s a killer,” Weber said. “Because they have so many other weapons and they spread you out.”

Michigan also took advantage of Illinois’ 13 turnovers — seven of which were by junior Brandon Paul — by converting them for 19 points. The Wolverines also outscored the Illini on fast break opportunities, 10-0.

“Unforced, careless turnovers has been the story of our season,” Weber said.

Paul led the Illini with 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting, while fellow junior Tyler Griffey finished with 18 points, eclipsing his previous career high of 13.

“Every time going into a game my mental approach is just the same: go in and help my team win,” Griffey said. “Fortunately, I hit a couple shots in the beginning and just kinda went on from there.”

Illinois started the game by pounding the ball down low to Meyers Leonard, but after he picked up a pair of fouls in the first eight minutes, the Illini had to shuffle their lineup. Griffey found his shooting stroke in the half, netting 10 points to help his team stay within six points heading into halftime. But the second half belonged to the Wolverines. The Illini tried to go down low to Leonard early but could not convert and were eventually held to just five points over the first 8:43 of the second half. The Wolverines would take advantage, opening a 12-point lead that would prove to be enough. Leonard would finish with just five points on five shots.

“We tried to limit his touches in the first half,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said. “We had a lot of attention on him. Obviously, we were very concerned about him.”

Illinois returns to action Wednesday when it hosts Purdue. With the NCAA tournament approaching, the Illini have lost three straight games and six of their last seven.

“It’s somber, it’s not a fun place to be right now,” Griffey said of the team’s locker room demeanor. “We gotta stick together and gotta get through it. Like coach is gonna say, it’s gonna be a tough stretch. And as I said, we gotta go win at home.”