Indiana 103, Illinois 69
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Another road trip to a ranked conference foe. Another loss by knockout for punchless Illinois.
Twelve days after a 25-point loss at No. 5 Michigan State, Illinois (9-10, 1-5 Big Ten) again looked like a Big Ten lightweight with an embarrassing loss at a Big Ten heavyweight, taking it on the chin in a 103-69 loss at No. 25 Indiana (16-3, 6-0 Big Ten) – the most lopsided loss of the John Groce era at Illinois.
Illinois allowed 100-plus points for the first time since a 108-107 triple-overtime loss to Missouri in 1993. It's the first time Illinois allowed more than 100 points in regulation since a 109-74 loss at Indiana in 1991.
Illinois – now off to its worst start after six games of Big Ten play since 2007-08, when the Illini started 1-5 on its way to a 1-6 start – never led in the game.
Indiana set a single-game school record with 19 made threes.
Troy Williams led the Hoosiers with 21 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Yogi Ferrell added 16 points and nine assists (becoming IU's all-time leader in assists), and Illinois native Max Bielfeldt added 16 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
The Illini went on a 10-0 first-half run to cut Indiana's lead to 22-21, but the Hoosiers responded with a 16-2 run of their own to take a commanding lead that it never lost. Indiana outscored Illinois by 17 points in each half.
Malcolm Hill led the Illini with 20 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Kendrick Nunn added 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting.
Mike Thorne Jr. played his first game since tearing his meniscus on Nov. 28. He went 1-for-6 from the field but scored nine points (on 7-for-11 from the free-throw line) and hauled in a team-high nine rebounds in 16 minutes.
What it means
This possibly was the most embarrassing loss of the John Groce era. Illinois continues to play terrible defense. It was either a layup or an open three for Indiana. And now, to make matters worse, the Illini now look completely out of sync on offense. Players are improvising on their own, playing one-on-one or "hero ball," far too often.
Yes, the Illini have injuries. Yes, they're playing young players. But more than halfway through a season, this team is not playing fundamentally sound on either end. The coaching staff doesn't seem to be getting through to its players.
It's a tough watch, one that fans are likely turning off in some second halves. It's not a good look. And the win over No. 20 Purdue remains an anomaly during an otherwise bad season. Illinois has lost two of its last four Big Ten games by 20-plus points. The last time Illinois lost two or more Big Ten games by 20-plus points in a season was Groce's second season (2013-14, two games). The time before that? 1998-99.
Fans giving this staff the benefit of the doubt are starting to run out of patience … and pride.
What went right
Malcolm Hill played really, really well – especially in the first half.. He just couldn't carry his teammates with him. Also, Thorne Jr. made an immediate impact on the glass and battled. That's about it.
What went wrong
Nunn has had two straight bad games. He finished with his 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting, five rebounds and two turnovers. He's taking bad shots and shots out of rhythm. Illinois' two stars must play like stars. Hill did. Nunn did not. When only one or neither plays like an All-Big Ten caliber player, Illinois has no shot – especially against a Big Ten title contender like Indiana.
Freshman Michael Finke (2 points, 2 rebounds) and Jalen Coleman-Lands (6 points, 2-for-6 FG) looked overwhelmed in their first appearances at the Assembly Hall.
The Illini's lack of a play-making point guard continues to be illustrated. Nebraska's Glynn Watson showed what a capable, solid point guard can do for a team. Ferrell showed what a great point guard can do for a team. Illinois' duo of Khalid Lewis and Jaylon Tate combined for eight points and six assists.
Illinois heads to Minnesota for one of the few road games in which it may be favored – though that Vegas line may start to lean the other way. The Gophers (6-12, 0-6 Big Ten) rank 202nd in the KenPom rankings, have lost seven straight and are losing Big Ten games by an average of 15 points per game. The Gophers rank 13th in the Big Ten in offensive efficiency and 13th in defensive efficiency. They're a young team and their few veterans aren't playing well. Simply, outside of Rutgers, there is not a worse team in the Big Ten. Yet, Illinois played down to inferior opponents throughout the nonconference season. Still, Saturday is a game the Illini should win – if they don't get in their own way, again.