|Wolverines dominant despite distractions|
|Written by Matt Pargoff|
In a perfect world, the hours and days leading up to a game involve a carefully choreographed routine designed help players focus and be ready for their task. That’s not always easy with college athletics given the demands of classes, but rarely has a team been forced overcome the level of distraction that Michigan did on Thursday when it defeated Illinois 75-55.
In the 24 hours leading up to their Big Ten Tournament second round matchup, the Wolverines faced a life threatening event when their airplane slid off the end of the runway after and aborted takeoff. The same high winds that affected the airplane also made any sort of practice impossible that day due to power outages at the university. While there were no serious injuries, the jarring accident wildly threw off the team’s schedule, with a replacement flight scheduled for early in the morning.
Rolling into the Washington D.C. venue just 90 minutes before tipoff, the sleep deprived Wolverines were granted a meager 30 minute delay in their prep to start the game. Aside from wearing their practice uniforms, with game jerseys still in the belly of the crippled airplane, it was difficult to spot anything different or wrong with the Michigan team.
Never trailing in the contest, Maize and Blue put on an immediate 11-2 run out of the gate. Holding Illinois to just 11 points in the first 13 minutes of action, Michigan’s first half lead swelled to as many as 20 points.
The Fighting Illini, who were playing with NCAA Tournament hopes on the line as a bubble team, eventually pushed back, and continued to make an effort in the second half, but never got closer than within eight points.
While Illinois got great help from its bench, it was the Michigan starters that led the way, scoring all but four of the team’s points, including four who reached double figures. Derrick Walton Jr. led the way with a 19-point outing, while Zak Irvin scored 18, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had 17 and D.J. Wilson chipped in 11.
With the victory over Illinois, Michigan advances to face Purdue on Friday at noon, with television coverage provided by ESPN.
The Wolverines and Boilermakers have faced off only once previously this season, a Feb. 25 matchup in Crisler Center that saw the Maize and Blue lead by as many as 22 before ultimately settling on an 82-70 victory.