IND 80, ILL 64: Rapid Reaction

A closer look at the Illinois-Indiana matchup in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

CHICAGO - Cody Zeller scored 24 points and Victor Oladipo and Yogi Ferrell each added 12 as Indiana defeated Illinois 80-64 Friday in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams led the Illini with 16 points apiece. Paul and fellow senior D.J. Richardson struggled offensively, shooting a combined 4 of 23 from the floor.

It was over when: Christian Watford hit a 3 with 5:33 to play. The Illini battled throughout the second half, trying to cut the deficit to single digits. Finally getting the margin under 10 points at 60-52, the Hoosiers clamped down on defense and went to work on offense. Oladipo hit a layup and on the next Hoosiers possession Watford drilled a 3 to push the lead back to 13. There was still enough time left to make a run, but after spending so much energy to cut the lead to eight, the Illini had nothing left after Watford's big shot.

Player of the game: Oladipo. His 360 dunk was the exclamation point to the game, but there's a reason why Paul and Richardson struggled so mightily. Oladipo was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Friday showed why. By game's end, Paul was frustrated, relegated to shooting long 3-pointers and driving to the basket with wild shots to follow. Oladipo finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, and there's no telling how many points he took away from the Illini. As Illinois coach John Groce said, "the stat sheet doesn't tell the story with him."

Illini honorable mention: Joe Bertrand. Still not 100 percent (shoulder), Bertrand came off the bench to score 10 points. Early in the game, with the Illini bothered offensively, Bertrand came in and provided a spark, scoring four of the team's first seven points.

Stat of the game: Points in the paint. Sitting behind the Indiana bench and hearing comments made by the assistants, it was obvious the game plan was to get touches in the paint. The staff constantly reminded the guards to look inside to Zeller and Watford and the result was a 40-24 margin on points in the paint. Zeller finished with 24 points and Watford had 15. The emphasis inside led to good looks on the perimeter, something Zeller was mindful of during the game.

"It's a priority for us every game," Zeller said. "They were double teaming, so I was just trying to find the open guy. … It opened up a lot."

The takeaway: Indiana is really good. We all know that. Illinois needed big plays and consistent performances from it's best players to have a chance, and the Hoosiers defense made sure it didn't happen. Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell did an exceptional job defending on the perimeter. Paul never got going because he was crowded from end to end. Richardson struggled to shoot, missing most of the few good looks he had, most glaringly in the second half. Abrams had a tough time in the first half, missing 6 of 7 shots and committing two turnovers. Indiana, playing at it's peak, is an elite defensive team. And Illinois encountered the aggressive, locked in, focused version of the Hoosiers Friday. In saying that, the Illini didn't quit. Down 14 at the half, the team showed toughness and resiliency, two attributes Groce mentions frequently, in keeping the deficit around 10 for most of the final segment and once getting it to single digits. Indiana would beat Illinois seven times out of 10, but that's not how March works. In one game scenarios, the Illini can beat or lose to just about any team. We've seen that play out over the course of the season, so why should it change now? The Illini will wait for another chance to play, as the NCAA Selection Committee will determine the next opponent. I suspect the Illini will be somewhere between a 7-seed and a 10-seed. In the event that happens, a first round win would set up a game with another elite team. It may take a day or two for this loss to pass, but for Illinois, in Groce's first year, to be watching Selection Sunday to see where it's seeded -- not if it will be included -- is a major victory.


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