Illinois' Sam McLaurin (0) shoots over Michigan's Mitch McGary (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/John Dixon)
Updated: March 1, 2013 7:19PM
CHAMPAIGN — In many ways, Illinois played well enough to win. It just didn’t shoot well enough to win.
The Illini battled No. 2 Michigan on Sunday but lost 74-60 on 37 percent shooting. After shooting less than 40 percent only three times during its 13-1 nonconference start, Illinois has shot less than 40 percent in all five of its Big Ten losses.
‘‘Our guys fought,’’ coach John Groce said. ‘‘Our mind and heart were in the right place. [But] you have to throw a couple in. We’re all in here diagnosing this and that. We had some good looks today. We didn’t make enough of them.’’
Putting the ball in the basket, of course, is the name of the game. And in a league as tough as the Big Ten, less than 40 percent is not going to cut it.
They’ll praise you. But only after they bury you.
‘‘A lot of my teams have been based on three-point shooting,’’ coach John Beilein said after his Wolverines turned back Illinois’ solid but fruitless effort. ‘‘Sometimes it’s just a matter of one game where guys hit some shots. It gives everybody confidence. I’ve seen some incredible dry spells. They’ll shoot their way out of it eventually. It’s a lot of hard work and everybody hanging in there and believing in each other.’’
Look for the Wolverines (19-1, 6-1 Big Ten) to ascend to No. 1 in the rankings Monday for the first time since 1992.
‘‘We’re not even thinking about it,’’ Beilein said. ‘‘You need road wins to win a Big Ten championship. Not one of you can remember who was No. 1 last Jan. 27.’’
And look for Illinois (15-6, 2-5) to — well, who knows?
If the Illini keep their energy up and start making some shots, they can do things. If not, they will have the feeling they had after this loss to Michigan.
‘‘We just have to be mature,’’ said guard D.J. Richardson, who had 12 points and went 2-for-9 from three-point range after scoring 30 with six three-pointers at Nebraska. ‘‘We can’t let [shooting woes] affect the other end of the court. We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of minutes, a lot of games. We should be used to it and worried about making the next play.’’
Illinois’ 23-for-62 shooting included a meager 6-for-26 (23 percent) from beyond the arc.
Whether they regain their shooting touch or not, one thing’s for sure. The schedule won’t get any easier the next four games, not with trips to No. 13 Michigan State and No. 12 Minnesota and home games against Wisconsin and No. 7 Indiana.
‘‘We’re going to prepare for every team the same way,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘It’s a good league. We knew that coming in. We’re going to keep our chins up and get ready for Michigan State.’’
Based on the way they were pumped up to play Michigan, the Illini will do that.
Whether it will work out for them depends on whether the round ball goes in the round basket, which is feeling kind of square in Central Illinois at the moment.