Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Combine for 56 points in Win at Illinois

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If there were any fears that Michigan–after being dominated at home by Purdue on Saturday–had witnessed the end of its three-week long hot streak, you can put those to rest now. The Wolverines followed that clunker against the Boilermakers with a dominant performance against Illinois Thursday night, a 72-61 beatdown at Assembly Hall. The victory is Michigan’s first in Champagne since 1995.

It was a tale of two halves for the Wolverines, and the first belonged to point guard Trey Burke. The freshman simply couldn’t miss in the opening period, going 6-7 from the field–including 4-4 on three-point tries–and finishing with 14 points.

The Fighting Illini were only down eight at the break, and a 12-5 run to start the second half made things interesting. But  Tim Hardaway Jr. ended any hopes of an upset for Illinois, as the sophomore took the game over in the second period. Hardaway Jr. finished with his most efficient shooting performance of the season. He went 6-7 from the field and finished with 25 points, the most since the Wolverines’ Big Ten opener on December 29.

The win keeps Michigan’s conference title hopes alive. A win at Penn State on Sunday combined with an Ohio State win at Michigan State would give the Wolverines a share of the Big Ten title. Barring an early exit from the conference tournament, Michigan is likely in line for a top-three seed in the NCAA tournament as well.

So what does this win mean for John Beilein’s squad? Well, not much.

The Wolverines shot 46.7% from the field, hit 19 of their three-point tries, and 21 of their 23 free throws. Basically, Michigan was shooting the cover off the ball. It’s two best players–Burke and Hardaway Jr.–both turned in arguably their best performances of the season. Throw in the fact that all of this came against an uninspired Illinois squad with a coach who’s all but certain to get the boot at season’s end and this win doesn’t seem all that impressive.

It’s highly doubtful that Burke and Hardaway Jr. will both play this well together again, much less against a better (and more motivated) team in the NCAA tournament. Of course, this performance erases that ugly performance against the Boilermakers and there is something to be said for winning in a building for the first time in over 15 years, but it would be foolish to expect the Wolverines to replicate this against better competition.

Michigan faces Big Ten bottom-dweller Penn State Sunday before it begins conference tournament play. The Wolverines should breeze by the Nittany Lions with relative ease, but don’t expect another 46 combined points from Burke and Hardaway Jr. in State College. In fact, don’t expect to see that again the rest of this season.

Chris Johnson is a sports writer for The Daily Northwestern. He is also the Michigan beat writer for bigtenorbust.com and a staff writer for WildcatReport.com (Northwestern Rivals).Follow him @chrisdjohnsonn. contact: christopherjohnson2015@u.northwestern.edu

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