Poor second half dooms Illinois basketball in 71-58 loss to No. 7 Michigan
BY HERB GOULD firstname.lastname@example.org February 24, 2013 10:03PM
Mitch McGary, Brandon Paul
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When Illinois went to No. 7 Michigan on Sunday, it wasn’t just facing the Wolverines. It was facing a fact of Big Ten life: The good teams in the nation’s best league rarely lose at home.
Michigan kept the trend going with a 71-58 victory, halting Illinois’ five-game winning streak.
That win leaves the Big Ten’s top five teams with a combined 31-4 home record in conference play, including the 7-0 mark of Michigan (23-4, 10-4).
A victory would’ve been a major step forward for the Illini (20-9, 7-8). They’re still free to move about the cabin in their journey to the NCAA tourney if they shake off this setback against Nebraska on Saturday.
But they didn’t play the way they wanted to. And even if Michigan had a lot to do with that, the defeat left coach John Groce and the Illini frustrated.
‘‘I’m going to keep it real simple,’’ Groce said. ‘‘They were smarter and tougher than us in the second half, and that was the difference in the game. It’s unacceptable. It’s intolerable. We had some errors we haven’t had in this stretch. That’s a recipe for bad stuff.’’
What hurt was that Illinois squandered a 31-28 halftime lead with a listless performance at the start of the second half. It was similar to the way it blew a 10-point halftime lead in an 80-75 loss Jan. 31 at Michigan State.
And that was Groce’s point of emphasis at halftime.
‘‘He brought up how we were ready to play against Indiana in the second half and how we weren’t ready against Michigan State,’’ forward Tyler Griffey said. ‘‘We tried to avoid coming out flat, but that’s what we did. We made mental mistakes and didn’t take care of the ball.’’
The Wolverines were led by 26 points from Trey Burke, who’s looking like the favorite for national player of the year. Michigan picked up 27 points off Illinois’ 13 turnovers. And after being outrebounded 18-12 by the Illini in the first half, the Wolverines controlled the boards 17-10 in the second half.
‘‘They’re one of the best teams in the country in transition,’’ D.J. Richardson said. ‘‘Every time we turned it over, they basically scored off of it. They played smarter and tougher than we did. They punked us. And we made bonehead mistakes.’’
Richardson, Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams each had 10 for Illinois, but Paul, who was 3-for-8, didn’t take a shot in the second half.
‘‘I’m not so concerned with [Paul’s] scoring as with our team scoring,’’ Groce said. ‘‘Teams are trying to take him away. Other guys have to step up. You have to execute at a higher level when you play a team as good as Michigan.’’
Illinois didn’t. The Wolverines, who have a deep and talented roster, are going to do that to a lot of teams. But that didn’t take the sting out of not measuring up.