Indiana struggled in the first half, but eventually heated up and rolled to a 74-47 win at Illinois on Thursday night. Here are 5 things you need to know following that game.
1. SO CLOSE THEY CAN TASTE IT: Thursday night's win gets Indiana one step closer to winning a Big Ten regular season championship for the first time since 2013. Indiana needs to win one of its final two games to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title. The Hoosiers (23-6, 13-3 Big Ten) travel to Iowa next Tuesday and then close the regular season at home against Maryland. Ironically, those are the two teams that still have a chance to win the conference championship.
Winning at Iowa will be beyond difficult -- especially if Robert Johnson misses the game (ankle) -- but the Hoosiers will be favored against Maryland at Assembly Hall. They are undefeated at home this year, and Maryland has really struggled of late. One more win is all it takes to clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title.
"We control our own destiny," Yogi Ferrell said. "It's coming down to the last few games."
2. YOGI EN FUEGO: Yogi Ferrell broke another record on Thursday night, and he did so in rather impressive fashion. Ferrell made is 131st career start at Indiana, the most ever at the school. Calbert Cheaney and Christian Watford each started 130 games at IU.
"I hope people see how valuable he is, not only in this league, but nationally, because he deserves it," Indiana coach Tom Crean said afterward. "You can't argue with the numbers, and you can't argue with the record that he's put forth as a senior."
Ferrell went off for 27 points against Illinois, including 19 points and five 3-pointers in a dominant second half. The senior guard continued his campaign for the Big Ten Player of the Year with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Ferrell was 11-of-18 from the field, and 7-of-9 in the second half.
"He really carried this team," said freshman center Thomas Bryant. "He leads by example. We all try to follow him."
3. SECOND-HALF OUTBURST: I thought the Illini would give Indiana a run for its money on Thursday night, and they did for one half. Indiana looked very average in the first half and trailed the Illini 28-27 at the break.
But the Hoosiers had seen this movie before. Let lesser teams hang around on the road, and their confidence grows. When their confidence grows, trouble often ensues. Indiana learned that the hard way at Penn State earlier this season.
Not this time.
The Hoosiers quickly stole the lead from Illinois and never looked back, outscoring John Groce's club 47-19 in the second half. Indiana made 10 3-pointers in the explosive second half, and the Hoosiers held Illinois to 30 percent shooting after halftime.
"We had a little flashback to that going in after the first half," Ferrell said of the Penn State loss.
Indiana's most impressive defensive accomplishment was the job it did on Illinois' Malcolm Hill. Hill, who entered the game averaging 18.6 points per game, scored only 5 on Thursday night, and he was held scoreless until late in the second half. It was only the second time this season Hill hasn't scored in double figures.
Freshman OG Anunoby was one of a number of Hoosiers who locked down Illinois' leading scorer. Jalen Coleman-Lands had 21 points, but he was the only player in double figures for Illinois. It's safe to say Indiana's defense continues to get better and better.
4. ROBERT JOHNSON SITS: As I reported on Wednesday, Robert Johnson missed Thursday's game due to the sprained left ankle he suffered in last Saturday's win over Purdue. Nick Zeisloft started in Johnson's spot and went for 14 points, including four 3s. But Indiana desperately needs Johnson going forward, and his status remains up in the air. It's very likely he could get back and play against Maryland more than a week from now, but it's hard to imagine him being close to 100 percent on Tuesday night in Iowa City.
"We're just continuing to rehabilitate him and evaluate him constantly," Crean said. "There's no real update past that."
Without Johnson, Indiana has little guard depth, forcing Tom Crean to play a specialist like Zeisloft heavier minutes than he should. Zeisloft is a great shooter, but he's not a strong defender, he's a poor passer into the post, and he cannot create anything off the dribble. Those limitations make Indiana a much more vulnerable team.
5. BRYANT'S SOLID NIGHT: He flew a little under the radar because of Ferrell's terrific performance, but freshman Thomas Bryant had a great night for the Hoosiers. Bryant finished with 14 points on 5-of-5 shooting and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes. His effort on the glass helped Indiana to a 37-17 rebounding edge on the Illini. Four different Indiana players had at least 5 rebounds.