Indiana has made a living behind the 3-point arc this season, hitting 41% of their attempts, and without an effective outside attack, the Hoosiers fell behind early and never caught back up. "I'm not sure why their three point shooting has dropped off. It seems to have taken a big drop from early in the season, and that made them so effective, because they spread you, hit threes, and then they go into Marco, and you have no help." said Illinois head coach Bruce Weber. "I think we did a better job getting to the three point shooters. We did a nice job on Vaden and Strickland, and limited their easy looks, and never let them get into a rhythm."
The Illini jumped out to an early lead on behind a pair of three pointers by Rich McBride, and 4 layups or dunks inside. The Illini game plan was clearly focused on getting the inside players touches, and 22 of the Illini's 38 first half points were either layups or dunks. A 22-4 run over a 12 minute span pushed the Illini lead out to 17 points with slightly more than 4 minutes left in the half, and the Illini held a 38-25 lead at the intermission. During that span, the Illini defense absolutely stoned the Hoosiers, forcing 7 of Indiana's 9 first half turnovers, and getting the Paint the Hall Orange crowd up on their feet for minutes at a time.
The highlight of the first half was a poster-quality dunk by Brian Randle, directly in the face of Marco Killingsworth. "It just comes when it comes..it's not one of the things you plan. I saw Warren come over and set a ball screen, I rejected it, and I had a clear lane. As he stepped up I was getting ready to take off, and the timing was right," said Randle when asked about the dunk. When Randle was asked if Augustine gave him tips on his dunks, Augustine commented with a laugh, "I can't jump that high!".
The Illini have gotten into a habit of building big leads and letting teams back into games in the second half. When the Hoosiers came out in the second half playing a matching 2-3 zone, the Illini offense faltered. "Our zone offense isn't very good, partially because the bigs don't flash as well as we're supposed to, but as far as the rest of the game, we did well as a team." said James Augustine. The offense DID struggle, but the Illini big men made a living on the boards and from the free throw line, as Illinois outrebounded the smaller Hoosiers 37-25.
" We told our guys we needed to get off to a good start," said Coach Weber. "Lotta energy, lotta enthusiasm. Now that kinda nullifies any motivational edge. We did that, we got the crowd in. I thought we continued it throughout most of the first half….probably a three or a two from really exploding it out. They didn't let us finish them off. We struggled against the zone at times. If you make a couple of threes, you spread them out. You gotta be happy about our big guys. They were 20-29 for all the 4's and 5's. Shaun and Marcus go 5-5, and that pretty much nullifies Killingsworth. So we've done a much better job the last couple of games getting some inside touches and shooting the ball from two. Now, if we can mix in some good three point shooting down the stretch run, we can get involved in the race."
The Illini finished with 40 points in the paint, many of the spectacular variety. James Augustine had 4 dunks, 2 on breakaways, Randle had 2 dunks, including the aforementioned poster-job on Killingsworth, and even Marcus Arnold joined into the fun, taking a no-look feed from Dee Brown and slamming it (well, kinda) home in the first half.
The Illini also showed a hint of resurgence from the free throw line, where they shot 77% for the game, and were well above 80% until the last few minutes of the contest.
Indiana was led in scoring by Killingsworth, who ended up with 15 points, but only 6 rebounds. Roderick Wilmont added 10 points for the Hoosiers, who have now lost 7 of their last 8 games to fall to 13-10 overall, 5-7 in the B10 conference race. The Hoosiers are getting perilously close to falling out of contention for an NCAA tournament bid, with home games against Penn State and Michigan State, and road games against Purdue and Michian left on their schedule before the Big 10 tournament in Indianapolis.
The solid performance by the Illini included solid bench contributions from Warren Carter and Marcus Arnold, who combined to shoot 5-6 from the field and added 5 rebounds. Freshman point guard Chester Frazier surprised the crowd by tying for second on the team in rebounding, grabbing 5 boards, including a key offensive rebound during a possession in the second half that stopped a mini run by Indiana. Freshman Jamar Smith did not see any action on Sunday. "Jamar didn't take care of business in a timely manner," commented Coach Weber. "
"Warren got the first call today," said Coach Weber. "He deserved it after his performance the other night, and he continued playing well again. It's a good good matchup for Warren, whether it's Vaden or Allen. Not really a big physical force, and then Marcus goes in and makes a couple of layups. He has a good feeling."
Next, the Illini travel to Ann Arbor to battle the MichiganWolverines at Crisler Arena. The Illini defeated the Wolverines at Assembly Hall in January by a final of 79-74, and the rematch should be a great game. "We're gonna have to go to Michigan and tough one out, fight one out. They've got a lot of talent, they can score. If we go up there and try to outscore them, I think they're going to win. They're very vulnerable right now, though. This late in the season, you can't say "Hey, they're gonna win." I guess it just comes down to who plays well in the last couple of weeks."
Game news and notes:
1) Dee Brown and James Augustine tied the career wins mark today with their 110th career wins. They are tied with Nick Smith.
2) James notched his 9th double-double of the season and the 25th of his career.
3) Augustine also moved to 20th on the career scoring list, and 4th on the career blocks list.
4) Dee Brown moved into 4th place on the IL career scoring list.
5) Warren Carter played a career high 25 minutes.