Now that’s how you win in the Big Ten.Â Michigan didn’t look like they could handle Illinois on the defensive end early on but they tightened up the D in the second half and made the big plays down the stretch to pull off a W. It was a back and forth game and Michigan did just enough to pull off the win and avoid a damaging 0-2 start.
The story today for Michigan was balance. Michigan had 5 players in double figures and almost had a sixth in Kelvin Grady. In a game that featured 7 ties and 9 lead changes it was crucial for Michigan to have more than one option on the offensive end. Michigan isn’t going to be able to get by on the combo of Manny and DeShawn alone in the Big Ten and it’s encouraging to see complementary players stepping up.
Even in a balanced effort, Zack Gibson was the star of this one. Gibson was forced to step up when Novak went to the locker room in a bloody mess after colliding with Alex Legion. Gibson poured in 8 second half points including a triple and two dunks that had the crowd at their feet. Gibson brought energy to the game when Michigan needed something to get them over the edge.
Michigan was stellar offensively and played one of their best offensive games against a very solid Illinois defense. Michigan’s offensive efficiency (121.3) was the highest allowed by an Illinois defense that ranks in the top10 in defensive efficiency (avg 85.2). Michigan shot the ball very well with an eFG% of 59.4% and got to the line when they had to. They also held onto the ball with a turnover rate of 13.1% against a team that usually forces turnovers on almost 25% of possessions.
In a battle of offense versus defense it was Michigan’s defense that came through down the stretch. The defense held Illinois to 25 points in the second half after giving up 39 points in the first. They managed to shut down Calvin Brock in the second after a first half where it seemed like no one was guarding him. Zack Novak was no match for Mike Davis in the post but he fought hard and the bottom line is that Mike Davis can’t guard Zack Novak either. Illinois went with only one of the big guys for large stretches of the game so that they could try to guard Michigan. I was convinced at half time that this Michigan team wasn’t going to be able to guard anyone all year but I think slowly but surely they are learning how to get after it on defense.
The Big Ten is a dog fight right now and Michigan needed this one. There are 6 teams at 1-1 and preseason favorite Purdue is sitting at 9th. Michigan has the out of conference wins to boost their resume come March but they aren’t there yet, this is how games will be in the Big Ten night in and night out. Next up Michigan attempts to win a game at Assembly Hall and knock off the dreadful Hoosiers for the first time since 1995 before coming home for a tilt with Iowa. Michigan will be favored in both games and really needs to be sitting at 3-1 a week from now.
- Zack Gibson: Zack was feeling it on offense today and scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting and added a monster block in only 17 minutes. The best moment for me was when Gibson called for the ball and drove into the lane for a huge slam late in the game. The shock of the Crisler crowd was priceless. Michigan is a much better team when Gibson is playing at a high level offensively and hopefully this boosts his confidence.
- Zack Novak: Novak is a warrior, Zack hit shot after shot in the first half and it seems like he doesn’t miss. When you consider this is only his 14th game in college his confidence is pretty remarkable. Novak had 11points on 4-5 (3-4 3pt) shooting and added 3 boards and one assist. Novak is going to be giving up size in every game but he also forces defenses to guard him on the perimeter.
- Manny Harris: Manny isn’t going to be able to pick apart defenses like he could against the Florida Gulf Coasts of the world but he had a solid game in my opinion. Manny had 16 points, 6 boards, 5 assists, 5 turnovers, 1 block, and 3 huge steals. He made a lot of big plays on defense (but also fell asleep a couple times) including a huge block and a couple run out slams. Hopefully Manny can find his three point stroke (0-5) but he needs to start taking better threes rather than frustration threes.
- DeShawn Sims: Solid but unspectacular night for Peedi with 13 points and 9 boards. DeShawn hit some huge threes but didn’t get that involved in the paint. In the end though I’ll take a near double double every night from DeShawn especially when other guys are stepping up.
- Laval Lucas-Perry: 13 points on 4-1 (3-7 3pt) shooting and 5 assists with 1 turnover. Solid night for Laval in his first start. Laval is still adjusting but you can see that he is getting more and more comfortable. LLP also had a big block on defense and brings the size and toughness to the D that we really need in the backcourt.
- Kelvin Grady: Kelvin had 9 points on 3-6 shooting including the huge layup late in the game. Both Kelvin and LLP are starting to get in the lane more and it adds a new dimension to Michigan’s game.
- Stu Douglass: Stu’s minutes are decreasing quickly but he is a solid backup for Laval. Stu had 2 assists and no turnovers off the bench today and didn’t take a shot.
- Anthony Wright and Jevohn Shepherd: DNP. There just aren’t any more minutes at the power forward when Novak and Gibson play this well. Shep is more athletic than Novak but he just can’t score it like Zack. I don’t think we will see much Ant Wright the rest of the year.