The day was suppose to be dominated by Michigan’s new head football coach, Jim Harbaugh. The arrival of Harbaugh spiked ticket prices for Tuesday’s matinee Big Ten opener against Illinois with Harbaugh addressing the Crisler Center crowd — many of whom dressed in Harbaugh’s trademark Khaki pants — at halftime.
However, the star of Michigan’s 73-65 overtime win over the Illini was freshman wing Aubrey Dawkins, son of Stanford head coach, Johnny Dawkins.
Aubrey Dawkins scored a game-high 20 points off 6-for-7 shooting from three. To put that in perspective, the 6-foot-6 freshman entered Tuesday afternoon appearing in 10 games, scoring a grand total of 15 points. He had missed his previous eight attempts from three, the last make coming against Nicholls State on Nov. 29.
The Wolverines trailed by 13 in the second half, struggling to get offensive support from Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin, who combined for 1-of-16 shooting to begin the game. Although, midway through the second half, Irving caught fire with back-to-back 3-pointers, aided by better ball movement from Michigan. Dawkins followed with two triples of his own. An 18-5 run gave Michigan a 56-55 lead with Caris LeVert accounting for nine of those points (three points, three assists).
LeVert ended with 19 points with five assists. Irvin added 13 as did Ricky Doyle, who scored eight of his baker’s dozen in the second half.
Late in the second half, Michigan switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense, which caused problems for the Illini. Add in a 3-for-11 performance from Rayvonte Rice. The leading scorer for Illinois ended with a season-low eight points, as Malcolm Hill paced the Illini with 19.
During Michigan’s run, Rice took zero shots, not looking as assertive as you’d expect someone averaging 17.7 points per to be. With the shot clock off and the score tied, Illinois drew up a play for Rice to replicate the buzzer-beater he hit against Missouri earlier this month. He came off a high-screen on the 2-3 zone defense, but LeVert raced over to close out on Rice, forcing a difficult look.
In overtime, a drive by LeVert created an open, endline three for Irvin, followed moments later by a wide-open look for Dawkins on a defensive lapse for Illinois, giving Michigan a two-possession lead.
This was a good win for Michigan after taking its lumps in the non-conference. The win will help overshadow Walton’s 0-for-8 performance, forcing John Beilein to rely on Spike Albrecht for 25 minutes. While the zone defense was effective, Michigan’s man-to-man was not. While the win helps the Wolverines put that four-game losing streak in the past, it could be the start of a difficult stretch for Illinois.
The Fighting Illini will be road warriors to start conference play, with four of their first five conference games — Ohio State, Nebraska, Northwester — on the road. The only home game in that stretch: Jan. 7 against No. 12 Maryland. Illinois has a second home game on Jan. 18, hosting Indiana.