Slow starts have hindered Michigan the last several road games. Tuesday night wasn't one of them. The Wolverines sprinted to a 10-4 lead on the strength of Derrick Walton Jr. and Nik Stauskas triples and never looked back, capturing an outright Big Ten title with an 84-53 win at Illinois.
U-M should have been out to a bigger lead, but Jordan Morgan missed a lay-up and the Ilini got a favorable bounce on a triple to make it 12-9 at 15:00. No matter, though. The pace was fast, favoring the Wolverines. The first stoppage of play didn't come unti 13:50, when Walton put the Wolverines up 16-11 with a strong drive and finish with a foul. He hit the free throw after the TV timeout to make it a six-point game,
Sophomore Caris LeVert turned it over to lead to a Illni transition hoop before atoning with a triple from the corner at 11:46 that made it 20-13. LeVert found frish Zak Irvin at 11:!0 for another triple that made it a 10-point game, and U-M was ready to roll.
Stauskas tripled between an Illinois backdoor layup and a tip-in, and sophomore Spike Albrecht followed with a three of his own to make it 29-17 - Irvin followed with a triple in transition and it was 32-17 at 8:15. The Wolverines scored the next four on a Morgan jumper on the pick and roll and a Glenn Robinson III steal and finish. Just like that it was a 19-point game at 7:22.
Illinois' Rayvonte Rice ended a 10-0 run with a long three, but Stauskas answered with a long one with his own at 5:45.
The teams continued to trade hoops. Irvin hit yet another triple, and it was 44-24 with only 3:43 remaining in the half. The Wolverines seemed well on their way to a Big Ten title, having made 68 percent of their shots and 9 of 12 triples. Illinois scored six straight to creep within 46-30, but Robinson III tripled to push it back to 19.
The Illini had held four straight opponents under 50 points coming in, the first time they'd done that since 1947; U-M had 52 when Stauskas hit a 25-footer at the first half buzzer to put the Wolverines up 22 at the break.
One of the few negatives in the stanza - a bruised tailbone for Morgan, who played only seven minutes in the first half. The Wolverines made 11 of 14 triples, led by Stauskas' 4-of-5 and Irvin's 3-of-3. Stauskas led the scoring with 14 points. Robinson notched 11 and Irvin nine.
The second half pace wasn't close to the breakneck, first half pace. Still, the Wolverines opened a 55-31 lead when Stauskas hit yet another triple, a contested 22-footer at 17:15. It was 56-32 when he made one of two free throws at 15:55 just after the first TV timeout.
Stauskas wasn't done. He hit yet another triple fading sideways to push the lead to 59-32, and Spartans and Badgers fans started switching channels in search of the ABC Family movie of the week.
Illinois wasn't quite finished. The Illini scored seven straight to cut the lead back to 20 at 12:52, providing at least a glimmer of hope. LeVert was fouled on a three-pointer but made only one of three free throws, but Illinois couldn't take advantage until a putback made it 60-41 at 10:40.
LeVert, though, answered with a triple that made it a 22-point game at the 10-minute mark. And when Stauskas tripled form the corner at 9:30 on a pass from Albrecht, it was all over but the celebrating. It was 68-43 at 8:11 after LeVert finished in transition, leading to an Illini timeout, and 71-43 after three Walton free throws.
The lead ballooned to as much as 33 with Stauskas on the bench, done for the night with eight minutes remaining. Albrecht added the exclamation point with the Wolverines' program-tying 16th triple, making it 82-52 before the bench emptied.
Stauskas led all scorers with 24 points, going 7-for-9 from long range. LeVert added 15, Robinson III 13, Walton and Irvin nine apiece. The Wolverines shot 56 percent from the floor and a ridiculous 69.6 percent from three-point range.