Rapid Reaction: Michigan 72, Illinois 61

March, 1, 2012
3/01/12
9:38
PM ET
With one of its legends calling the game, a senior night loss to Purdue from which to rebound and a chance to split the Big Ten title at stake, Michigan did exactly what it needed to.

It led the entire way against Illinois.

The No. 16 Wolverines beat the Illini 72-61 on Thursday, winning in Champaign for the first time since 1995 and putting themselves in position to share their first Big Ten title since 1986.

For that to happen, Michigan will need to win at Penn State on Sunday and then hope Ohio State defeats Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich.

Thursday's win also moved Michigan to 12-5 in the Big Ten and 22-8 overall. The 22 wins for Michigan are the most under coach John Beilein and equal the final two seasons under former coach Tommy Amaker. Its 12 Big Ten wins are the most since 1993-94, when the Wolverines went 24-8 overall and 13-5 in the Big Ten, finished second in the league, and made the Elite Eight.

So how did Michigan reach that point? Mostly due to another strong performance from Trey Burke and a rejuvenated Tim Hardaway Jr.

Efficiency is key
Michigan relied on its two best players Thursday night, Burke and Hardaway. And when it needed them, they both played perhaps their most efficient games of the season.

Hardaway scored 25 points and had 11 rebounds -- his second double-double of the season. However, the most impressive part of his night was he accomplished this on just seven shots. He was 6-of-7 from the field, 4-of-4 from the 3-point line and 9-of-10 from the free throw line.

His shooting percentage is critical. When Hardaway shoots 50 percent or better from the field, Michigan is 11-0 this season.

He had competition, though, when it came to having a strong game. Burke, the freshman point guard, scored 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting, and made two of three 3-pointers and five of six free throws. He also had five assists.

If Hardaway and Burke continue playing like this, Michigan is going to be a very tough out the rest of the month.

Breaking a record
Burke set the first record of his Michigan career Thursday night, passing former Wolverines point guard Gary Grant for most assists as a freshman.

Grant had 140 assists in 1984-85. With five assists against Illinois, Burke now has 143. His mark also is the 17th-best assist total in a season in Michigan history and is now two behind Garde Thompson’s 145 assists in 1986-87 for No. 16.

“That’s a big accomplishment,” Burke told WolverineNation earlier this week. “To say you broke the freshman assist record.”

Tip-ins
Sophomore forward Colton Christian played meaningful minutes Thursday, doing a good job on Illinois center Meyers Leonard in the first half and scoring his first basket since Nov. 21 against Memphis. ... Sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz fouled out with 3:45 left in the game. ... Michigan made a season-high 21 free throws and attempted 23 free throws for the first time since Jan. 1 against Minnesota. ... The 91.3 percent from the free throw line is Michigan’s best percentage since it went 15-of-16 against Northwestern on Jan. 11.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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