Hoosiers Hang On Against Illini, 62-60

BLOOMINGTON-It might have been a gut check game for Indiana going in, but it wound up being a heart stopper. Indiana overcame a double-deficit early, squandered a 15-point lead late, and then held on for dear life in the closing minute to hand No. 7 Illinois a 62-60 setback at Assembly Hall.

BLOOMINGTON-It might have been a gut check game for Indiana going in, but it wound up being a heart stopper.

Indiana overcame a double-deficit early, squandered a 15-point lead late, and then held on for dear life in the closing minute to hand No. 7 Illinois a 62-60 setback at Assembly Hall.

When Richard McBride's last-second halfcourt heave deflected harmlessly off the top of the backboard and a healthy contingent of the 17,328 IU fans rushed the court, No. 11 Indiana (11-3/3-1) had its first win over the Illini since 2003 and its first victory over a top-10 team since knocking off Michigan State 78-74 last February.

In a game that featured an 18-0 Indiana run late in the first half and a 14-1 Illinois flurry late in the second, the Hoosiers emerged victorious thanks to 20 second-half points from Marco Killingsworth and a completely different effort than the one they turned in six days earlier in a 14-point loss to Michigan State.

After Indiana's defense was picked apart by the Spartans' 58.8 percent shooting in East Lansing, Indiana responded by limiting Illinois to 43.9 percent shooting from the floor. Indiana was especially successful at slowing down last year's Big Ten MVP Dee Brown, who was just 1-of-9 from the floor and finished with five points.

The last of Brown's misses was on a 3-point attempt with five seconds left that would have tied the game at 61. Illinois' Jamar Smith tipped in the miss to cut the lead to one, but Robert Vaden hit one of two free throws at the other end, and Illinois could get off nothing more than a desperation heave at the buzzer.

While Brown did finish with 11 assists, five rebounds and three steals before fouling out in the closing seconds, the Hoosiers managed to keep arguably the Big Ten's best player from beating them.

"They overextended on (Dee), they switched out on him," said Illinois Coach Bruce Weber, whose team slipped to 16-2 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten. "Their guards got very tight on him. They were going to let other guys get open looks if it meant Dee wasn't going to get into a rhythm."

Indiana also turned its fortunes around on the backboards. Illinois entered the game with a Big Ten's best +7.7 rebounding margin, but Indiana out-rebounded the Illini, 39-31.

"We rebounded the ball – I never thought I'd say that – we rebounded the ball well," said IU Coach Mike Davis.

Nine of those rebounds came from Rod Wilmont, who provided a huge spark off the bench. The junior guard finished with 17 points, knocked down 4-of-6 3-point shots, and gave the Hoosiers a huge emotional lift early in the first half after Illinois jumped to a quick 19-9 lead. He scored on a pair of fastbreak baskets during Indiana's 18-0 first half run that turned that 10-point deficit into an eight-point IU lead.

"My job is to play with energy, and that's what I did," said Wilmont. "We were struggling early, and I took it upon myself to give us a lift."

Indiana got a team-high 12 rebounds from Killingsworth to go along with his game-high 23 points. That effort on the glass came on the heels of a one-rebound night in the loss to Michigan State, a contest that saw Indiana get out-rebounded 29-18 by the Spartans.

"Coach Davis got on me about (the rebounding)," said Killingsworth. "He said I would come out of the game with just one rebound. That is all I was focused on in the first half, because the points are going to come."

Truth be told, it wasn't only Killingsworth's rebounding that was on Davis' mind early on. Davis said afterwards that the Hoosiers' 6-9, 270-pound senior was battling back spasms before the game and his availability was in question, but he bounced back from a three-point first-half to dominate in the second half.

"He's a good player," said Weber. "Sooner or later he's going to get some things. Sooner or later they made a commitment at the half to get him the ball."

Killingsworth scored 16 of his points in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, helping the Hoosiers turn a 28-24 halftime lead into a seemingly comfortable margin, 53-38. It appeared that after battling down to the final minute in home wins over Michigan and Ohio State earlier this season, the Hoosiers were finally poised to cruise to a comfortable conference win.

But that wasn't to be. After a Marshall Strickland layup gave Indiana a 55-40 lead with 8:22 left, Illinois responded with a 14-1 over the next 4:11 to cut the lead to two, 56-54, with 4:11 remaining. Indiana turned the ball over four times during that stretch and managed to get off only two shots.

"At the end, I felt we played not to lose instead of to win," said Davis.

That added another level of drama to the battle, but eventually Indiana would come up with the plays it had to down the stretch. With Davis refusing to watch, Killingsworth hit three of four free throws in the final 2:03, and Brown missed the potential game-tying shot.

Davis was candid about why we wasn't watching when Killingsworth stepped to the free-throw line for his important free throws late.

"Have you seem Marco shoot free throws," asked Davis. "I didn't want to look at it, I wanted to go by the crowd."

The crowd let Davis know Killingsworth made three out of four, and it also made it obvious IU had emerged victorious after hundreds rushed the floor to celebrate the win. While the victory is an important one in Indiana's quest for a conference title, Davis didn't want to put too much emphasis on just one win.

"I think we're pretty good, but all we did is win a home game," said Davis. "You have to take care of home."

Killingsworth 8-14 7-11 23, Allen 2-3 0-0 6, Strickland 3-9 2-2 9, Vaden 1-9 1-2 3, Monroe 0-1 2-3 2, Wilmont 6-10 1-3 17, Ratliff 0-3 2-2 2, Kline 0-0 0-0 0, Calloway 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-49 15-23 62.

Randle 7-13 1-3 15, Pruitt 7-9 3-5 17, Augustine 5-10 1-4 11, Brown 1-9 2-2 5, McBride 2-7 0-0 Frazier 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 2-5 0-0 4, Carter 1-2 0-0 2, Arnold 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 25-57 8-16 60.

Halftime Score: Indiana 28, Illinois 24. 3-Pointers: Indiana 7-20 (Killingsworth 0-1, Allen 2-2, Strickland 1-4, Vaden 0-5, Wilmont 4-6, Ratliff 0-2), Illinois 2-14 (Randle 0-1, Brown 1-6, McBride 1-5, Smith 0-2). Rebounds: Indiana 39 (Killingsworth 12), Illinois 31 (Pruitt 7). Assists: Indiana 13 (Strickland 4, Vaden 4), Illinois 17 (Brown 11). Turnovers: Indiana 17 (Vaden 5), Illinois 11 (Augustine 2, Brown 2, McBride 2). Blocks: Indiana 3 (Killingsworth 2), Illinois 6 (Pruitt 3). Attendance: 17,328. Officials: Tom O'Neill, Mike Kitts, Curtis Shaw.

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