ANN ARBOR - A loss to open its Big Ten schedule last week stayed with Michigan for days.
Instead of brooding about a second conference defeat, the No. 23 Wolverines have their heads up after rallying to beat Illinois 74-64 in front of 12,912 fans at Crisler Arena yesterday.
UM (11-3) eclipsed last year's 10-win total and improved to 1-1 in conference play by edging a physical Illini team that was leading 39-38 at the break. After dropping a home game to Wisconsin on New Year's Eve, the Wolverines couldn't afford to fall to 0-2 in the Big Ten with their first two games played at home.
"I think I might've lied to a couple of you, saying there wasn't a lot of pressure to win that game," UM coach John Beilein said to reporters afterward.
"You've got to hold that court. If you're going to end up having a good year, you've got to hold court against the best teams in the league and Illinois obviously is."
The Illini (13-2, 1-1) beat No. 9 Purdue on the road last week and opened yesterday's contest shooting 59 percent from the field with assists on each of their 17 first-half baskets.
The Wolverines responded with a superb second half defensively, limiting their opponent to just 11-of-33 shooting and holding it scoreless over the game's final 3:38.
Much of UM's stellar play down the stretch was done without freshman starter Zack Novak, who received a nasty cut above his left eye with about
11:30 left and didn't return to the game until the 1:06 mark.
Zack Gibson filled in for Novak and scored eight of his 10 points in the second half with four coming on two dunks.
Michigan's Manny Harris led all players with 16 points.
"Gibson, wow, he was amazing," Novak said. "They kept telling me we were down by one, because I kept asking 'what's the score, what's the score?'
"And then I come out and Zack's getting dunks on people. I mean, he was great."
UM's DeShawn Sims and Laval Lucas-Perry each added 13 points and Novak contributed 11. Lucas-Perry made his first start at UM and has scored in double figures in the five games he's played.
Novak, who in his second start drained three of UM's 11 3-pointers, received the cut thanks to a head-to-head collision with, or possibly an elbow from,
Illinois' Alex Legion.
Blood oozed from the wound, and when Novak reappeared from the locker room with 5:24 to go he was wearing a different jersey - No. 11 instead of his No. 0 - and pair of shorts.
Also, he emerged to a chorus of loud cheers from a crowd he has quickly endeared himself to.
"I've never had that many people clap for me before,"
"It was pretty cool. This crowd, our fans, I think they really like this team and appreciate what we're doing."
Legion, a Detroit native and sophomore who broke his verbal commit to UM during recruiting, was booed and jeered by the crowd and finished with 10 points. Calvin Brock led the Illini with 13 points.
The Wolverines have their first conference road test Wednesday at Indiana, and can approach it feeling much better than if they had fallen to 0-2 in the Big Ten yesterday.
"When we were 0-1, it looked bad and we hung our head the whole week up until today," Harris said.
Contact Joe Vardon at:
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