ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Andre Curbelo scored 11 of his 17 points in the first half, and No. 4 Illinois dismantled No. 2 Michigan with a smothering defensive performance, routing the Wolverines 76-53 on Tuesday night.
Playing again without injured star Ayo Dosunmu, the Illini (19-6, 15-4) kept Michigan from clinching the Big Ten title and boosted their own chances at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Trent Frazier led Illinois with 22 points, and Kofi Cockburn added 12.
Eli Brooks scored 11 points and was the only player in double figures for Michigan. The Wolverines (18-2, 13-2) looked physically overwhelmed for much of the night, unable to create good shots against the Illinois defense and unable to keep the Illini off the boards. It was an eye-opening blowout — especially since Michigan has rolled to similar margins of victory against other good teams this season.
Both teams had a hard time scoring in the first half, but Curbelo’s ability to drive to the basket helped Illinois to a 33-22 lead at the break. Then the Illini kept pouring it on.
Illinois outscored Michigan 22-5 in second-chance points and held the Wolverines to 35% shooting from the field.
The Big Ten confirmed before the game that it will use winning percentage to determine the league champion. Michigan can still wrap that up with a win in either of its last two games — or if Illinois loses its last game this weekend.
Illinois: The Illini still have an uphill climb to win the Big Ten, but if they finish a game or two behind Michigan in the loss column, their fans will likely be heard from on the topic. The Wolverines are scheduled to play three fewer games than Illinois, and the size of this blowout — without Dosunmu — will resonate. Dosunmu has missed the past three games with a broken nose, but the Illini have won them all.
Michigan: It’s only one game, and the Wolverines had been remarkably consistent in their dominance of the Big Ten this season — but Michigan looked so lacking in energy and offensive poise Tuesday that it will be interesting to see the team’s response later this week.
This is a tricky one to evaluate. Michigan may drop behind No. 3 Baylor. Illinois could certainly pass Michigan as well after this game, but the Illini still have four more losses than the Wolverines. Plus, both Michigan and Illinois have more tests to come before the next poll.
Illinois: The Illini play at No. 7 Ohio State on Saturday.
Michigan: The Wolverines finish the regular season with a home-and-home series against rival Michigan State, starting Thursday night in Ann Arbor.