ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — This is how rough a stretch Illinois is mired in: Even Michigan’s slumping sophomores shot the ball well against the Fighting Illini.
Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 15 points and Evan Smotrycz added 13, helping the 22nd-ranked Wolverines remain unbeaten at home with a 70-61 win over Illinois on Sunday. The Illini have lost six of seven and are on the NCAA tournament bubble despite wins over Ohio State and Michigan State.
“You’ve got to have a sense of urgency,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “Got to have a sense of, I don’t want to say desperation, but we’ve got to win a game here some time.”
Freshman Trey Burke added 14 points for the Wolverines, but it was Smotrycz and Hardaway who came through with the most encouraging performances of the day, especially in the first half.
“I just didn’t like the pace of that game. We needed something good to happen,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Tim hits a shot. Evan hits a shot. We have been waiting for that.”
Hardaway entered the game shooting 19 percent from 3-point range in Big Ten play. Smotrycz wasn’t much better at 24 percent, but they both went 2 for 2 from beyond the arc in the first half.
“When your two worst 3-point shooters go 4 for 4 — Hardaway and Smotrycz — in the first half, it’s a killer for you,” Weber said. “They have so many other weapons and they spread you out.”
Brandon Paul led Illinois (16-9, 5-7) with 21 points and Tyler Griffey added 18.
Hardaway’s poor outside shooting and Smotrycz’s ineffectiveness have been concerns for Michigan, but both players were sharp Sunday, especially early. Hardaway gave the Wolverines a 10-8 lead with a 3-pointer from the left wing, and his shot from the baseline — after a nice defensive play by Smotrycz — made it 25-20.
Smotrycz made a backdoor pass to Matt Vogrich for an easy basket, then added a 3-pointer of his own to make it 30-21. Michigan (19-7, 9-4) was ahead 37-31 at halftime and pushed the lead to double digits early in the second.
It was 53-44 after Paul made a 3-pointer for Illinois, but Vogrich connected from long distance for the Wolverines and Jordan Morgan scored to put Michigan up by 14 points.
Illinois went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead in half, but Morgan broke up Paul’s pass into the post, and Hardaway made a layup in transition to make it 60-51.
Michigan has won consecutive games for the first time since beating Wisconsin and Northwestern at home in mid-January. The Wolverines improved to 14-0 at Crisler Center this season.
Michigan trails Big Ten co-leaders Michigan State and Ohio State by a half-game and will try to avenge a January loss to the Buckeyes next weekend in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines don’t play again until then, so the home crowd began chanting “Beat Ohio!” at the end of the game.
Illinois center Meyers Leonard, who at 7-foot-1 had at least a 5-inch height advantage over every Michigan starter, was in foul trouble early and finished with five points, although he did have 12 rebounds. The Illini had 14 offensive rebounds to Michigan’s six but couldn’t take advantage.
Illinois shot 9 of 29 in the second half and finished at 39 percent for the game. The Illini also turned the ball over 13 times.
“Coach (Weber) has been doing whatever he can to make us better and we’ve just got to go out there and produce,” guard D.J. Richardson said. “He teaches. He shows us. We’ve just got to do a better job out there on the court. He doesn’t teach us how to turn it over. That’s us.”
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