Illinois prides itself on defense, but it had no defense for Indiana Thursday night. The Illini tried to prevent three point shots, a Hoosier specialty, so IU drove into open areas for layins and dish-offs.
Refs didn't permit physical play, and the Illini got into severe foul trouble trying to prevent easy shots. In the end, there was nothing the Illini could do to stop IU from scoring.
Illini head coach Bruce Weber was frustrated with the number of foul calls, especially in the second half. It affected the entire defensive effort.
"The first half, I thought there was some legit fouls. We've got to play better defense without fouling. But the second half was a travesty. You've got to try to play the game. It is what it is, and we've got to adjust."
"They start driving, and they call the fouls. Now you back up a bit, and they get an angle on you."
Indiana upperclassmen learned the hard way through numerous losses the last three years. They know what to do, and at home against a much younger team, they had a major advantage.
"We're a young team, we're an inexperienced team. We showed immaturity at times. We had three freshmen on the court at times against a top 20 team. We didn't have enough to contain them, keep them off the line and do the things we needed to win."
It also helped having a clever, mature point guard to run offense. Jordan Huls is known for his outside marksmanship, but he knew when to penetrate, and when to draw defense to him to set up open teammates. He ended with 15 points and 7 assists with only two turnovers, but his leadership was his best asset.
"The ball screens, Jordan Huls is very good and very smart. It seemed like every time we made an adjustment, he made an adjustment."
The Illini have no one comparable, and it shows with their inconsistency. Tracy Abrams scored 8 points and added two assists, but he is still learning the position. At this point, Sam Maniscalco appears incapable of helping.
And Brandon Paul was guarded well by Hoosier Victor Oladipo and lacked the energy and enthusiasm to lead the team. He had 13 points and 5 assists, but he hit only 4 of 11 shots, fouled out in 31 minutes and showed none of the hustle that has marked his recent play. Weber says Paul has gone from one extreme to the other.
"Brandon went from 17 and 15 on the play-hard chart to 3 and 1. He's supposed to be our best guy, and he's got to be consistent."
It appeared Leonard would have a field day, and he started out strong with 15 first half points, dominating IU center Cody Zeller. But even then, Weber reminded how little court awareness his players seem to have.
"Meyers came out strong, and we got the ball to him. We've got to realize, they went small at the end of the half with (Christian) Watford on him. Sam and Tracy, you've got two point guards in there, and both go and shoot three shots instead of getting us spread out and getting it to Meyers and make Watford guard him."
As fouls and frustrations mounted in the second half, Leonard became less effective. The Hoosiers padded their lead with Leonard out of the game.
"Meyers has got to keep his poise. He lost his poise. They bop him, he's got to deal with it. I wish there'd be a couple fouls on that, but it hasn't happened all year. He doesn't help himself with the refs."
The Indiana loss was no surprise; the Hoosiers are especially strong at home. The team's predicament comes from the close losses the past few weeks.
"The regret is not tonight, it's Sunday, two weeks ago, three weeks ago. You've got to play as a team, and you've got to play for the team."
The team followed Weber's directive to fight hard throughout. But the coach laments how rare it is for his starters to all have good games at the same time.
"We battled. But someday you've got to get D.J. (Richardson), Brandon and Joe (Bertrand) to play good at one time. D.J. got going a little bit, but you didn't have Brandon and Joe with anything.
Richardson led the Illini with 19, and Leonard added 17. But four Indiana players hit double figures, and Zeller, Watford and Oladipo hit for 22, 18 and 18 respectively. The Illini shot 52% from the field, but IU shot 50% overall and 58.3% from the arc. The 17 point free throw discrepancy added insult to injury.
The Illini have no time to lick their wounds. They travel to Michigan day after tomorrow to face the Wolverines for a noon matchup.
"We've got to keep them fresh, we've got to keep them positive. And obviously we've got to do better."