LeVert, Donnal lead Michigan to 78-68 win over Illinois
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — When Michigan coach John Beilein looked down his bench and nodded at Mark Donnal early in Wednesday’s 78-68 win over Illinois, he wasn’t sure exactly what he would get.
The junior forward came through with 26 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had three blocks — all career highs — to lead the Wolverines over the Illini to open Big Ten play for both teams.
Caris LeVert added 22 points, including the first nine for the Wolverines (11-3), who have won five in a row.
But it was Donnal who dominated once he entered the game as the third Wolverine off the bench.
“We’ve been watching Mark make progress,” Beilein said. “He went out there today and proved he could play, so we wanted to keep him on the floor. We did.”
Donnal seemed unimpressed with his effort. “Well, Caris (LeVert) gave me some awesome assists, and it let me get some easy baskets early,” he said, shrugging. “That helped, obviously. We played off each other pretty well all night.”
LeVert tied a career best with 10 assists.
Kendrick Nunn scored 23 points to lead the Illini (8-6). Jalen Coleman-Lands added 13 and Malcolm Hill 11.
Coleman-Lands hit a 3 to close the first half and give Illinois a 37-34 lead at the break.
Donnal scored seven during a 9-2 run to open the second half that put the Wolverines in front for good.
“They beat us in every aspect in that second half,” said Illinois coach John Groce. He singled out Donnal for praise. “His energy out there today, his passion, his emotions, especially in that second half. We needed some of that, and we just didn’t have it.”
Groce noted a trend this year for Illinois - good starts followed by a slow fade. “We have to start responding to adversity better in the second half. This is, I think, the seventh game this year we’ve struggled in the second half.”
Nunn made a layup to pull Illinois within two with 13:48 left, but Michigan’s Zak Irvin answered with a 3-pointer that sparked a 13-2 spurt and made it 61-48 about four minutes later and held off the Illini thereon.
Illinois had its five-game win streak snapped.
Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. scored 9 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
Michigan visits Penn State on Saturday
Illinois plays Sunday at Ohio State
DEEP BENCH: Michigan’s deep bench played a role in the victory, outscoring the Illinois bench 29-8.
DÉJÀ VU: This is the second consecutive year Michigan and Illinois opened Big Ten play against each other. The Wolverines won last year’s opener 73-65 in overtime at home.