Game MVP - Armon Bassett. The sophomore guard issued a reminder about his importance to the ultimate success of this team with his 11-point second half. Not only did Bassett hit a trio of 3-pointers at critical times, he also spearheaded a much better defensive effort in the second half. Bassett gives the IU defense some personality with his tenacious on-the-ball approach, and he's also more sound defensively at this point in his career than freshman Jordan Crawford. Offensively his ability to knock down perimeter shots is huge, but so is the fact the IU offense seems to run more smoothly with him on the floor. D.J. White gets more touches and the team appears to have better shot selection. Bassett played 14 minutes in the second half and didn't appear to be slowed by his ankle, which is good news for the Hoosiers as they prepare for a difficult road game at Minnesota this week.
Biggest Surprise… Illinois' effort. On paper, this game had the makings of a blowout. Indiana entered the contest on a nine-game winning streak, Illinois was in the midst of a four-game losing streak, and the Illini played without its top perimeter defender, point guard Chester Frazier. But Illinois played with the sort of effort and grit that has been lacking for some time, perhaps all the way back to the Maui Invitational in late November. IU Coach Kelvin Sampson said afterwards he watched plenty of Illini games on film leading up to this match-up and they didn't play with the same sort of purpose that they had Sunday afternoon. But Coach Bruce Weber got solid defensive efforts from Calvin Brock and Brian Randle against Eric Gordon, whose presence undoubtedly served as motivation for the wounded Illini. Ultimately the Hoosiers prevailed, but Illinois played like a much better team than its 8-9 record would indicate.
What I Found Most Impressive… The play of Indiana's bench. D.J. White had another double-double and Eric Gordon led the way with 17 points, but the Hoosiers wouldn't have won the game without the performances of Bassett and A.J. Ratliff. That duo combined for 15 points and 31 minutes in the second half to lead the Hoosiers to the come-from-behind win. Bassett always figured to be a big part of IU's fortunes once he returned from his ankle injury, but Ratliff likely got a big shot of confidence with his effort. His 3-pointer at the 4:29 mark gave IU its biggest lead of the game, 57-51, and his blocked shot and steal in the game's final 15 seconds preserved the Hoosiers' victory. D.J. White and Eric Gordon are the featured attractions on the Hoosiers, but complementary players such as Ratliff and Bassett are just as important to the team's success. They proved that Sunday.
What I Found Most Concerning… He's only a freshman playing a position that he's still learning, but Jordan Crawford struggled Sunday at the point. He finished with just four points on 2-of-8 shooting in 23 minutes and dished out only one assist. He also launched a handful of ill-advised shots, including a quick 3-pointer with 3:19 left that had Sampson shaking his head and turning to Ratliff as a replacement in the game's final three minutes. In Crawford's defense, he's still learning the point guard position and everyone has an off-day. But he still needs to make better decisions and show he can run an offense in a halfcourt, grind-it-out game like the Hoosiers played Sunday.
Turning Point: Indiana went on a 10-0 run over the course of two minutes midway through the second half that turned a 45-39 deficit into a 49-45 lead. D.J. White got things going with a pair of free-throws, while Illinois' Shaun Pruitt followed with a pair of misses at the charity stripe. Bassett then connected on the first of his three second half 3s to cut the margin to one. After a Demetri McCamey miss, Eric Gordon then went coast to coast, slipping past Pruitt for a lay-in to give IU the lead. Brock missed on the other end, and IU capped the run with a Ratliff free throws followed by a D.J. White layup to open a four-point lead. The game wouldn't be decided until the closing seconds, but IU spent the early portion of the second half playing catch-up, and IU's run turned the tables on the Illini.
"That's what you talk about – being close in a Big Ten road game at half, and find a way to grind it out. That's old-fashioned, Big Ten basketball. We did it for years at Purdue." – Illinois Coach Bruce Weber
"Balls haven't bounced our way, calls haven't gone our ways. I guess that's part of it It's the difference between having a great season and having a mediocre season." – Weber
"Jordan Crawford is a lot better player than that. We had a lot of guys that didn't play as good as they are capable." – IU Coach Kelvin Sampson
"Even (Ratliff's) misses were wide open. He had wide-open looks…the more minutes he gets as the games go by, he'll get better and better." – Sampson
"I was pretty excited. I knew this was going to be a big game for us. We just looked at it like another Big Ten game, and we tried to get a win." – Eric Gordon
"Illinois came here ready for us. They came in and played harder than us in the first half. I think it was one of the most physical games we've played." – D.J. White
"We probably didn't win by as much as we wanted to, but it's the Big Ten. We're going to take a win however we get it. It wasn't pretty, but we got the win." – Armon Bassett
ILLINOIS: Upon Further Review
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