Illinois started Sunday night's game with Michigan with an alley-oop on its first possession, igniting a raucous home crowd, and defended with a purpose. The Wolverines, though, weathered the storm in outscoring the Illini 35-27 in the first half thanks to a big, first 10 minutes from freshman Nik Stauskas and a solid last five from sophomore point guard Trey Burke on the way to a 74-60 win.
Stauskas helped U-M get off to a strong start defensively with two finishes, one in transition, one a drive and lefty scoop. Freshman Glenn Robinson III also found him in the corner for a triple that put the Wolverines up 13-7, making the extra pass, and Stauskas finished a backdoor cut with an emphatic, two-handed dunk to put to make it 17-10 after Illinois' Brandon Paul hit a triple in transition to end a 6.5 minute scoring drought.
Redshirt sophomore big man Jon Horford gave the Wolverines great minutes when starter Jordan Morgan went down with an ankle injury early (he walked off, but didn't return). Horford replaced freshman Mitch McGary and worked the glass after Illinois grabbed four offensive rebounds in the first five and a half minutes.
U-M opened an early eight-point lead, but the Illini stayed in it and battled back by going three for their first six behind the arc. Robinson III notched two tip-ins and a nice drive and lefty finish, two of which pushed the lead back to six, but Illinois continued to shoot lights out behind the arc.
A Burke steal and finish, a Hardaway triple in transition with 50 seconds to go in the half and an impressive Burke step-back jumper at the buzzer provided the halftime margin.
Burke and Stauskas scored nine each, Robinson six, Tim Hardaway Jr. five and Horford four to lead the U-M scorers.
Hardaway opened the scoring with a tough drive and finish in transition to push the Michigan lead to 10, his second impressive drive and finish of the game. Michigan, though, picked up four fouls in the first 3:00 of the second half, leading to Illinois' first six free throws of the game (five makes).
Big man Max Bielfeldt came in after a Horford foul and provided solid minutes. He made two of four free throws and Stauskas followed with a triple from the corner to counter a 5-0 Illinois run, bringing the lead back to nine, 46-37, at the first TV timeout.
Steals following Illinois defensive rebounds on the next two possessions, by Bielfeldt and Hardaway, led to Bielfeldt and Burke finishes that pushed the lead to 50-37 on a 9-0 run, forcing an Illinois timeout.
The Illini wouldn't go quietly. They were in the bonus at the 11:00 mark and scored four straight to pull within nine before Hardaway buried a three, and then went on a 5-0 run to pull within seven at 9:08. A McGary tip-in ended the run, and a Burke steal and dunk pushed it back to 11.
The lead ballooned to 14, 64-50, at the six-minute mark on a Robinson finish from Hardaway and a free throw and finish from Horford on the next two possessions. The Illini missed three straight triples in that stretch when the Wolverines went to their 1-3-1 defense and fell behind by 18 following finishes by Burke and Stauskas.
Horford continued his strong play with key rebounds down the stretch and the Wolverines closed it out to improve to 19-1, 6-1 and in first place in the Big Ten - likely No. 1 in the nation, too, when the voters decide Monday.
Burke led the scoring with 19 points and added five assists and five rebounds. Stauskas scored 14, Robinson and Hardaway 12 and Horford seven (five rebounds) in the win.