- Associated Press - Saturday, January 6, 2018

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - John Beilein used his bench extensively in the first half, as fouls and turnovers mounted in almost equal number for Michigan.

When Isaiah Livers went in, the tide finally turned a bit.

Livers scored nine quick points - a 3-pointer and three dunks - during the latter part of the first half, and the Wolverines eventually pulled away to a 79-69 win over Illinois on Saturday. Moe Wagner scored 11 of his 14 points in the second half, when Michigan took control for good.

“I don’t think there’s anything pretty about how we’re playing,” said Beilein, Michigan’s coach. “We’re just finding ways, still, to get out in front of people and win games.”

Michigan (14-3, 3-1 Big Ten) won its seventh straight, but only after a difficult first half in which the Fighting Illini caused problems with their defensive pressure. The Wolverines trailed 19-11 when Livers came in. The 6-foot-7 freshman’s brief scoring binge gave Michigan the lead .

Illinois was back ahead 34-31 at halftime, but while the Wolverines took better care of the ball in the second half, turnovers remained a problem for the Illini (10-7, 0-4). Michigan had 12 turnovers in the first half to nine for Illinois. In the second half, the Wolverines only had three, and the Illini had eight.

“That’s a really good Michigan basketball team,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “We took them out of everything. Now, sustaining that for 40 minutes - we’ve got to get figured out.”

Livers finished with 12 points, one of six Michigan players in double figures. Charles Matthews, Michigan’s leading scorer on the season, was called for a foul in the first minute of the game and immediately came out. When he returned a few minutes later, he picked up a quick second foul and sat the rest of the half.

Matthews and Wagner were both called for their third fouls early in the second, but that didn’t stop the Wolverines from keeping Illinois at bay. Michigan shot 64 percent from the field after halftime.

Kipper Nichols led Illinois with 17 points.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini remain winless in conference play, but they forced Michigan out of its comfort zone. Illinois missed all six of its 3-point attempts in the second half, hurting its chances of an upset.

“Open the game the other night 1 for 19, then we go 3 for a hundred today from 3,” Underwood said. “You’re not going to win in college basketball without making shots.”

Michigan: This was not a typical game for the Wolverines, with both teams piling up turnovers and fouls. Michigan eventually became more comfortable, and players like Livers and Jordan Poole (11 points) showed off the team’s depth.

GROWTH

Livers said he’s received special attention from Beilein, who wants him to be strong in the lane and pivot well.

“After practice, it’s 15 minutes with Isaiah nonstop, over and over,” Livers said. “It’s actually a conditioning drill, but it’s great to go one on one with the head coach. He has a lot of experience and he knows exactly what he’s talking about.”

OPPOSITE

In its previous game against Minnesota, the Illini fell behind 17-2 and eventually lost 77-67 . The score was almost exactly the same against Michigan, but this time the second half was when Illinois slipped too far behind.

UP NEXT

Illinois: The Illini play four of their first five games this month on the road. The lone home game in that stretch is up next, against Iowa on Thursday night.

Michigan: The Wolverines host No. 13 Purdue on Tuesday night. Since Michigan State doesn’t come to Ann Arbor this season, that might be Michigan’s biggest home game on the schedule.

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More AP college basketball: www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 .

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

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