After Travel Trouble, Michigan Beats Illini 75-55 In Big Ten Tournament
Flying into town only a few hours before tipoff because of travel trouble a day earlier, and wearing yellow practice jerseys instead of the game uniforms that got stuck on their abandoned airplane, Michigan raced to an early double-digit lead and beat Illinois 75-55 to reach the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday.
Derrick Walton scored 19 points for No. 8 seed Michigan (21-11), which meets regular-season conference champion Purdue next.
The Wolverines were stuck wearing the simple, practice tank tops — no players' names on the back — against ninth-seeded Illinois (18-14) because their proper uniforms, along with everyone's suitcases, were trapped under the plane that slid off a runway during an aborted takeoff Wednesday, according to Michigan spokesman Kurt Svoboda.
No one was injured, Svoboda said.
Tyler Davis, a team manager, tweeted a brief video of the aftermath.
Players and coaches packed new luggage for the trip, the practice jerseys were retrieved from campus, and Michigan flew — successfully, this time — to the D.C. area on Thursday morning. The team landed at 8:45 a.m., got to the arena at around 10:35 a.m., then were playing basketball less than two hours after that.
Tracy Abrams, who led the Illini with 23 points, said he was trying to leave everything he had on the court.
“I just wanted to do what I could do to make sure guys are ready," he said. "I was just trying to lead a lot, whether that makes guys better, talking - you know, whatever that covers, I just wanted to leave it all out there.”
No other Illini scored double-figures. Leading scorer Malcolm Hill was held to four points.
Coach John Groce noted that Michigan also had half as many turnovers as Illinois, a 14-to-7 differential.
"I thought that was the real difference in the first half, and thought defensively (Michigan) was good today, also."
And the Wolverines didn't miss a beat.
Michigan went up by 13 at 22-9 a little more than 8½ minutes in, when Zak Irvin collected an Illinois turnover then fed D.J. Wilson for a two-handed alley-oop slam. That Wolverines pair then leaped into each other, with Wilson knocking down Irvin, who seamlessly transitioned into a push up near midcourt.
Hill's turnaround jumper was the game's next basket — and his only one of the first half.
Not much later, Michigan's lead had grown to a whopping 20 points at 31-11, when Irvin made a 3 from the top of the arc.
Over the next 2½ minutes, Illinois finally got into the flow of things, using a 12-0 run — the first 10 all from Tracy Abrams — to make the game competitive. By halftime, Michigan's lead was 40-29, but it again got the margin back to as many as 20 in the second half.
Illinois drops to 18-14 on the year, but will be eligible for competition in the National Invitation Tournament. Pairings for the NIT will be announced Sunday night.
Groce says he would like the opportunity to coach this group again.
Irvin finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for Michigan. Illinois got 23 points from Abrams. Hill, the senior guard who leads the Illini in points, rebounds, assists and steals, wound up with four points on 1-of-8 shooting.
Illinois: Likely looking at an NIT bid after failing to produce the kind of impressive Big Ten Tournament run that could have allowed it to sneak into the NCAA field.
Michigan: Came to the Big Ten Tournament figuring this week was about seeding for the NCAAs; knocking off Purdue would surely give the Wolverines a boost in that regard.
Michigan: Faces No. 1 seed Purdue in Friday's opening game. The Wolverines already beat the Boilermarkers once this season, 82-70 on Feb. 25.