Michigan kept Illinois at arm’s length Thursday night in a 79-69 road victory.
Despite just 26 percent shooting from three, the Wolverines eclipsed a point per possession with several second-chance points. Meanwhile, they adjusted to the Illini’s aggressive pace, forcing 14 turnovers.
It could be described as a...blue-collar victory.
On Jan. 11, 2017, Illinois' Maverick Morgan referred to Michigan as a "white-collar team." Since that day, the Wolverines are 65-14 overall and 4-0 against the Illini, with a Final Four and two Big Ten tournament championships. Illinois is 26-40.— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) January 11, 2019
The Top Plays reflected the workmanlike attitude of this Michigan program.
Livers back is good to go
Isaiah Livers returned to the court after sitting the last two games against Penn State and Indiana due to back spasms.
He eradicated any health concerns in the first seven minutes.
He opened scoring with fadeaway jumper off a spinning post pivot. He then bashed through a defender sitting in the restricted circle for an and-one. Most emphatically, he leapt for a rebound and putback to stretch the lead to 17-11.
While the 43.5 percent shooter from deep missed all three of his attempts, he finished with nine points, five boards and an assist.
Only question is: how can I get my hands on that back medicine?
Something old, something new(ish) from Teske
There are Big Ten big men that can score, like Indiana’s Juwan Morgan or Ohio State’s Kaleb Wesson. There are ones that bang inside (Northwestern’s Dererk Pardon).
Jon Teske may be the most versatile.
Teske is a lot of fun to watch. He plays great defense, gets boards, can shoot, and catches lobs like this one. He is one of the most underrated big men in the country. #GoBlue pic.twitter.com/8TbRCARHkx— Daniel Plocher (@DanPlocher) January 11, 2019
The 7-footer manufactures points in a variety of ways. He scored 13 points against Illinois utilizing yet another alley-oop, a hook shot and a couple pick-and-pops.
The one from three batted away a run from the hosts, stretching the lead back to seven early in the second half.
With his size and frame, the junior obviously makes a natural rebounder. He earned a double double by snaring 11 boards.
He hustles up and down the court, as evidenced by his transition block in the opening minutes. His four swats Thursday boosted his block rate to 8.4 percent, which ranks No. 61 in the country.
Lastly, he facilitates his teammates, as he dished out four assists. With his ability to hit the midrange jumper, opponents have to close on him. This opens up runners to the lane for Teske hit on the run.
As Shon Morris pointed out, he’s another in a long series of athletes John Beilein has molded into a complete basketball player.
Brazdeikis jumps a pass for a transition bucket
Michigan yo-yo’d between single-digit and double-digit leads for much of the game. Midway through the second half, Illinois was set for an inbounds and a chance to cut into a 57-47 deficit.
Iggy Brazdeikis literally snatched the opportunity away. He took off from several feet away, looped between Illini to jump the pass and sprinted for a fast-break layup. He also used his forearm to fend off the defender, as the Illini blocked three transition baskets from behind.
The freshman mustered 16 points on the night, despite a 4-of-9 night on two-pointers. Even on off nights, he can turn defense into offense to bolster his production.
Simpson quiets crowd with slick pass to Poole, then a trey
Brad Underwood called Zavier Simpson the conference MVP at this point. It’s probably because the junior point guard slammed the door on the final Illinois comeback try.
First, he delivered a bounce pass from near midcourt to Jordan Poole for an easy two, boosting the lead to 63-51 with just over seven minutes left. After Underwood’s squad slashed the lead back to seven, the home crowd started to roar.
Simpson, channeling his inner Derrick Walton, Jr., buried a pull-up trey to push the margin back to double-digits. He crept closer to 30 percent from deep with a 2-for-4 night, sitting now at 28.6.
The Illini entered with a pressure defense that ranked top-10 in turnover rate. After 11 first half team giveaways, Simpson took the reins and protected the rock, as Michigan coughed it up only three more times.
The Lima, Ohio native’s final stat line: 16 points (6-of-13), eight assists and five rebounds (and only two turnovers).
Bonus: Take it off, Brad Underwood!
We've got a coat toss in the Illinois/Michigan game.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) January 11, 2019
Brad Underwood received a technical after he was unhappy with a call: pic.twitter.com/mdzV9bKO83
Who did it better? Him or Harbaugh?