DJ Wilson led a blue-collar effort for Michigan today. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
After Illinois blew out Michigan in Champaign ten days ago, Illini center Maverick Morgan described Michigan as a "white collar" team.
When the Wolverines arrived at Crisler for today's rematch, their blue road uniforms were hanging in the lockers—a request the players made, according to John Beilein. If the message weren't already abundantly clear, Billy Donlon made sure it hit home.
"He wrote 'street fight' on our wall with a sharpie," said DJ Wilson. "We were like, 'you know you can't take that off,' and he was like, 'that's the point.' His energy was contagious and I think it showed in the first half."
Wilson, in particular, took that message to heart. He scored 19 points (7/10 FG), grabbed six of his seven rebounds on the offensive end, immediately finishing a couple with emphatic tip-slams. He also broke down the Illinois zone with five assists and contributed a block and some more altered shots to Michigan's strong defensive effort.
"He's got to get in there," Beilein said of Wilson. "One of our zone things was he was not leaving the paint so he could rebound, and stay in there instead of stretching [out to the perimeter]."
"He can really shoot, but he's got to understand that if we're going to win, if he's going to play at another level, he's got to mix it up inside. He's very receptive to that coaching."
This afternoon, it showed. Wilson attempted eight of his ten shots from inside the arc after shooting only four two-pointers over the last two games. His six offensive boards matched the career-high he set in the conference opener at Iowa.
Wilson, Walton, and Irvin all produced at the rim. [Campredon]
Unlike the first Illinois game, when he also had 19 points, Wilson got plenty of help. Derrick Walton posted 13 points and 11 rebounds, all on defense, for his first double-double of the season and sixth of his career. Zak Irvin wasn't exactly efficient, needing 15 field goal attempts to get his 15 points, but he repeatedly broke down the Illini defense and got to the basket. Most importantly, the team-wide defensive effort was a night-and-day contrast from the last time around: after allowing 1.42 points per possession in Champaign, Michigan held them to 0.89 PPP at Crisler and forced 17 turnovers.
After Michigan followed up their awful defensive showing at Illinois with a shootout win over Nebraska in which neither team could stop the other, there was good reason to fear that this team would embrace having to out-gun every team they faced from here on out. Today's win, however, marked the second consecutive game in which the Wolverines played much-improved defense. The final score isn't indicative of the flow of the game, either; Michigan held a comfortable lead throughout and led by 21 with 5:57 to play before packing in the offense a little prematurely.
Morgan, who scored 16 points on 8-for-9 shooting in the first game, mustered a six-point, three-turnover performance this afternoon; in 22 minutes, he had a +/- of -22, the worst mark of any player by 13 points.
"We won't have a painter come in until next year, at least," said Beilein.