Illinois guard Brandon Paul (3) drives past Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (10) in the first half Thursday night's game.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Tim Hardaway, Jr., had 25 points and 11 rebounds to help keep No. 13 Michigan in the Big Ten title race with a 72-61 win over Illinois on Thursday night.
Trey Burke added 21 points for Michigan (22-8, 12-5), which led throughout in its first victory on Illinois' home court since 1995.
Illinois (17-13, 6-11) closed to within 40-39 with just over 15 minutes left. But the Illini missed three chances to tie the game or take the lead.
The Wolverines stretched the lead to 53-44 with 7:49 to play, and Illinois was never close again.
Coming off a 75-61 loss at home to Purdue, Michigan came into the game still playing for that title shot.
Step one required a win Thursday over a down-and-out Illinois team. Get that, beat Penn State on Sunday, and get Ohio State to beat Michigan State, and the Wolverines would have a title.
Illinois was playing for its increasingly slim hope at making the NCAA tournament and fighting against persistent speculation that its coach, Bruce Weber, is on the verge of losing his job. Since briefly leading the Big Ten in January, Illinois has lost 10 of 12.
Michigan turned to Burke in the first half, and he answered with 14 points. And when the Illini slowed him down, the Wolverines looked to Hardaway in the second.
The sophomore was 6-for-7 from the field — including all four of his 3-pointers — and was 5-for-6 from the free throw line.
Down 35-27 at the half, though, Illinois opened the second half with a 12-5 run, half of it three straight short-range buckets from the 7-foot-1 Leonard. That pulled the Illini to within a point with 15:37 left in the game.
And they stayed close over the next six minutes but couldn't take the lead.
Then Hardaway put some distance between his Wolverines and the fading Illini.
With 9:14 left, he hit a 3-pointer that put Michigan up 49-44.
Forty seconds later, he sank another jump shot for a 51-44 lead.