The Wolverines missed two shots in the last 10 seconds, and the Illini leave with must win on their home court.


CHAMPAIGN -- One thing is for sure. The Illinois basketball team isn't going to make it easy.

With the season hanging precariously at the point of no return, the Illini watched as two Michigan shots bounced off the rim in the final 10 seconds to hold on for a 54-52 victory in a Big Ten Conference game Wednesday night at Assembly Hall.

"We missed free throws, but we got stops,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "We didn't get the rebounds and had to wait to the last (seconds). They would have won it if it went in.

"We found a way to win. We've had a lot of close ones where we haven't won. I'm happy. I don't care if it's ugly or not.''

Forward Bill Cole made one of two free throws with 14.6 seconds left for the two-point lead, then the Wolverines went for the win. Reserve freshman forward Evan Smotrycz attempted a 3-pointer from the wing. When the rebound finally bounced to Michigan guard Stu Douglass, he only had time for an off-balance shot from his left hand.

It bounced off the rim.

Guard Demetri McCamey scored 18 points to lead the Illini. He was 7-for-15 from the field and 4-for-8 from the 3-point line.

"I was just playing basketball,'' McCamey said. "They were daring me to shoot. I wasn't out there trying to get assists or points. I was just playing basketball.''

Center Mike Tisdale came off the bench to score 12 points for the Illini. Forward Mike Davis finished with eight points, 10 rebounds and a team-high five assists as Illinois worked the high-low.

"They played more like seniors,'' Weber said. "We knew we could take the ball to Tisdale inside, then Demetri hit some shots. I said he was going to play well, and he did. It's a win. That's all I care about.''

Illinois improved to 17-9 overall and 7-6 in the Big Ten by winning for the fourth time in the last 10 games. The Illini head onto the road for two games, beginning with the GameDay show at Michigan State in prime time Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN) before playing at No. 2 Ohio State Tuesday.

Illinois pushed its winning streak to 13 straight against Michigan in the Hall.

Cole hadn't missed a free throw since Nov. 19. Guard D.J. Richardson, who hadn't missed one since the Big Ten opener, failed to make the front end of a bonus with 23 seconds left and the Illini clinging to a 53-50 lead. Michigan cut it to 53-52 on a quick drive by guard Darius Morris.

"It would have been a lot easier on the heart at the end,'' Weber said.

Illinois didn't have any margin for error. The Illini needed a sweep of the final three home games for any hope for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. A loss to Michigan would have been double jeopardy for the Illini, because Michigan would effectively move ahead of Illinois in the race for an NCAA berth.

"This is an extremely important win for us,'' Tisdale said. "Last year, Minnesota came in here and took our NCAA bid. It's kind of the same situation this year.''

Michigan (16-11, 6-8) entered on a hot streak by winning five of its last six games, including a vicotry that ended an 11-game losing streak at Michigan State. Illinois already lost three games on late rebounds, and Douglass' shot gave the Wolverines a chance for a tie. But the clock forced him to rush it and use his off hand.

"It was a prayer shot,'' Michigan coach John Beilein said. "It wasn't a clean look. Evan's shot looked like it might bank in for a second.''

The Illini broke the game open with a 25-8 run for a 30-19 lead with 3 minute 14 seconds left in the first half, and they led comfortably with a 32-22 margin before Michigan slowly cut into the lead in the second half.

Illinois went with a lineup change, inserting guard Brandon Paul in place of Tisdale. Even though Tisdale struggled through Big Ten play, the change was likely more related the small, quick Wolverines lineup and Michigan's desire to spread the court on offense.

But Tisdale entered the game with 16:20 left in the first half, and the Illini quickly worked it inside against the smaller Michigan lineup.

McCamey scored 11 of the Illini's first 19 points, and Illinois rallied to a 21-17 lead thanks in part to a 14-14 run. Michigan opened an 11-5 lead at the first TV timeout by hitting its first five shots. Hardaway had seven of the points.

NOTES: Davis moved into a tie for third all-time at Illinois with Deon Thomas with 846 rebounds. . . Chatham Glenwood freshman guard Peyton Allen was one of the recruits attending the game. . . The seats were generally filled except for a large portion of the student section. . . 

Illinois report card

Front court -- A The Illini took advantage of their size. While Michigan wanted to spread the court with its four-guard offense, the Illini worked the high-low. Mike Davis produced another all-around strong game.

Back court -- B-

Demetri McCamey had 18 points for his best scoring effort in eight games. It will be interesting to see if he can make it two in a row against Michigan State. The defense from Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson was probably their biggest contribution.

Bench -- B+

Coming off the bench didn't slow senior Mike Tisdale, who reached double figures in scoring for the fourth time in Big Ten play.

Overall -- B

The Illini came out tight, feeling the pressure of the must win. Missed free throws down the stretch made this one even tighter. The Illini protected the home court and came away with a close win. That's all that matters as we inch closer to March.