Early Indiana onslaught dooms Illini in 96-80 loss at Assembly Hall

Illini can't rebound from early Indiana onslaught, lose fifth straught at Assembly Hall; fall to 1-2 during Big Ten play

No. 25 Indiana 96, Illinois 80

What happened

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Illinois expected No. 25 Indiana, losers of three straight, to throw a haymaker from the opening bell. But the Illini still couldn't stop the Hoosiers' early offensive onslaught.

Indiana (11-5, 1-2 Big Ten) claimed a 15-0 lead to start the game, and despite a frantic late Illini rally, the early onslaught was enough to end the Hoosiers' three-game losing streak. Indiana led for double digits for all but 3:35 of the game.

Illinois (11-5, 1-2 Big Ten) didn't score until Jalen Coleman-Lands made two free throws at the 13:55 mark and didn't make its first field goal until 13:23 mark on a three from Aaron Jordan.

Illinois trimmed the lead to 81-72 with an 8-0 run with 5:41 left, but that's as close as it would get. Indiana answered with an 10-0 run -- helped by a John Groce technical foul -- to put the game away.

Illinois has now lost its last three games to Indiana by a combined 77 points.

James Blackmon led the Hoosiers with 25 points (5-for-9 from three), while Robert Johnson added 18 points (7-for-11 shooting). Thomas Bryant (20 points) shot a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, including 2-for-2 from three.

The Illini were dreadful in their first eight possessions, missing their first eight shots and turning it over three times. Making matters worse, Illini senior star Malcolm Hill picked up three fouls within the first 3:31 of the game and didn't return until the 6:40 mark.

Illinois trimmed the deficit to 21-10, but Indiana responded with a 13-2 run to claim a 34-12 lead. Illinois climbed with a 39-26 deficit with an 8-0 run, but Indiana took a 48-29 halftime lead.

Hill scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half to help Illinois make a run. Coleman-Lands (5-for-8 from three) scored a season-high 21 points, and Maverick Morgan added 18 points (6-for-9 FG).

But Illinois couldn't slow Indiana's dangerous offense. The Hoosiers shot 59.2 percent from the field, including 13-for-25 from three. The Hoosiers also got to the free-throw line often, sinking 25 of 31 attempts. Indiana finished the game with scorching 1.37 points per possession.

Illinois scored 51 points in the second half on 56.7 percent shooting (44.4 percent for the game), but the Hoosiers scored 48 second-half points. The Illini made 26 of 33 free-throw attempts.

Illinois is now 11-26 in Big Ten road games under head coach John Groce.

What it means

Most Illini fans had a sinking feeling this kind of performance would happen -- and that's a big problem in a coach's fifth year. The Illini have suffered far too many blowout loses under Groce. While he took over a floundering program, in his fifth season the Illini look even less competitive against the conference's best teams. Few expected Illinois to win at Indiana, but the Illini have now lost their first two Big Ten road games by a combined 25+## points. Those kind of uncompetitive, embarrassing performances only add fuel to the first under Groce's seat -- and it should, even if he has a top-10 recruiting class coming in. There certainly is a lot of season left, but Illinois better be good at home -- because it looks atrocious on the road.

What went right

Hill was phenomenal in the second half, scoring 18 points from the 17:05 mark of the second half to the 9:40 mark. He's a gifted scorer at all three levels and knows how to get to the free-throw line consistently.

Coleman-Lands was red-hot in his home state. He sank four of the Illini's seven first-half field goals. He splashed three-pointers, which is no surprise. But he also made a couple twos, a rarity for him. He had 11 two-point field goals entering the game (five against VCU). He drove and made a contested layup and later shot-faked and sank a two-point jumper. Coleman-Lands is a gifted shooter, but he must become more multi-dimensional. He's taking baby steps.

Maverick Morgan continues to play well offensively. He scored, almost at will, against Thomas Bryant and the long Indiana front court.

Te'Jon Lucas (six points, four assists and two turnovers) and Kipper Nichols both played. Lucas led the team in the plus/minus category with a plus-8. Lucas was abit wild and a bit nervous early but settled in down the stretch. Ideally, he would've worked those inks out during the nonconference, but Groce -- as Illini fans lament -- sided with Tate. Thing is, Lucas probably isn't completely ready for a huge Big Ten load, but he was the best point guard option on Saturday -- a big issue. He needs more playing time to show what he can do. He's simply more dynamic than Tate. Nichols was solid, splashing a surprising turnaround jumper over his right shoulder. He lacks height in the post though.

It didn't snow, so travel wasn't that bad for the Illini Inquirer crew.

What went wrong

What is defense? I ask because I haven't seen much of it this season from Illinois. Whether employing man-to-man or zone, the Illini provided few obstacles for Indiana's great offense. Illinois went mostly zone because it couldn't guard Indiana man-to-man, but that opened up the three-point line for Indiana's dangerous shooters. It also opened up the baseline for Anunoby, who the Illini couldn't stop at the rim. The Illini can't  defend but also can't defend without fouling. Indiana got to the free-throw line early and often -- and converted.

Speaking of, the difference in athleticism is alarming. Indiana's roster is full of long, bouncy, quick players. A handful will have a shot at playing in the NBA. Illinois may have one (Hill), whose lack of athleticism is a huge hindrance at the next level. An Indiana dunk contest is worth televising. An Illinois dunk contest probably wouldn't be much more entertaining than Champaign Central's.

Hill's three early fouls were a killer. He checked out at the 16:29 mark and didn't return until the 6:40 mark of the first half -- with the Illini trailing 37-16. While his charging call was questionable, the senior must play more composed on defense to avoid such a dilemma. To his credit, Hill was phenomenal in the second half, scoring 10 points during a three-minute stretch.

The Illini passing was poor. They don't deliver the ball to a teammate's threat position. Too many arrive at the ankles.

Tracy Abrams is suffering a terrible regression to the mean from the three-point line. He started the season making 26 of his first 38, but has made just three of his last 19 during the last four games. He has scored three or fewer points in three of his last four games.

Mike Thorne's sloppiness earned him extended bench time in the second half. Thorne is a black hole on offense, careless with the basketball and too much of a nonfactor on the glass. He's losing playing time with Michael Finke Finke sliding at the five, and Nichols subbing in for Finke at the four.

What's next

Illinois comes home for a week with two home games, starting with an 8 p.m. Wednesday tipoff against Michigan. The Wolverines (11-5, 1-2 Big Ten) lost Saturday at home to Maryland. It looks like a fellow bubble team, so Illinois must protect its home court against such teams if it wants to make the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines are a jump-shot heavy team, but they are dangerous from beyond the arc (37.0 percent) and take care of the ball (fifth-best turnover rate in the country). Illinois has lost 11 of 12 to Michigan dating back to 2011. John Groce is 1-7 against John Beilein with an average margin of defeat of 10.4 points per game.

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