Bloomington – There was only one problem with Indiana's effort in Sunday's Big Ten slugfest with Illinois.
Tom Crean's team only showed up for the second half of the fight.
The Hoosiers put themselves in an 17-point halftime hole, battled back to within six with 6:27 remaining, and ultimately fell to Illinois 65-52 in front of the season's first sell-out at Assembly Hall.
With the loss, Indiana drops to 6-18 overall and 1-11 in the Big Ten and eclipsed the school record for most losses in a season. Illinois, meanwhile, won for the fourth time in five games to improve to 21-5 overall and 9-4 in the Big Ten.
Playing without the suspended Devan Dumes for a second straight game, Indiana appeared unwilling to put up any resistance in the early going.
Illinois made its first five shots from the field and 17-of-27 in the first half overall to race to a 38-21 lead. Indiana countered by missing all but six of its 22 first half field goal attempts while also misfiring on 6-of-14 free throws as well in an effort that was reminiscent of how it played in last months' 76-45 loss in Champaign.
"I challenged our guys to have a sense of urgency early, especially on the road," Illinois Coach Bruce Weber said. "I couldn't have been happier with how we started."
Weber's satisfaction with how his team played in the game's first 20 minutes was countered by Crean's frustration with how his team played in the early going.
"Right now, what we have to hang our hat on is spirit and toughness," Crean said. "The way we played in the first half, that's not what we played with and they exposed us."
But as has been the case throughout a long and trying season, Crean's team didn't quit. Indiana changed some things up defensively and sagged off of Chester Frazier to try to take away some of the open shots that Illinois was getting in abundance in the first half. But more than anything it played with an energy and passion that was lacking during the game's first 20 minutes.
"We have to find something that would give us a chance to get back in the game," Crean said. "We weren't coming back out with status quo."
Matt Roth, who led IU with 13 points, drilled a couple of 3-pointers that enabled IU to get within 14, 46-32, with 14:09 remaining. Roth's shots also got the crowd of 17,346 into the game as well, and Indiana continued to chip away at the margin. Malik Story scored on a conventional 3-point play to cut the lead to 11 with 12:45 left. After Illinois pushed the lead back to 14, Indiana went on a 10-2 run to close within six, 54-48, with 6:27 left, capped by another Story basket.
At that moment the season's largest crowd was probably the loudest its been all season, something that wasn't lost on Crean.
"It's amazing – I don't have any adjectives anymore," Crean said. "That was an incredible place…it was high level in that building."
Even Weber applauded the fans' energy, despite being the focal point of a variety of chants from the crowd.
"One of our goals was to keep them quiet," Weber said. "True fans are there win or lose, and they are showing a special face to support this team. (Crean) has them fighting every game. You can't say enough about the fan support here."
Verdell Jones had a chance to stir the crowd up even more but missed a wide open 3-pointer that would have cut the margin to three. Chester Frazier then ended the Hoosiers' rally by hitting a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key to put the Illini up nine, 57-48, with 4:56 remaining.
Indiana would get no closer than nine the rest of the way.
"Give him credit – he took it as a challenge when they didn't guard him," Weber said of Frazier's shot. "He shot that and I was praying it would go in for his sake."
While Indiana's second half rally gave the 17,000-plus something to cheer about and prevented the Hoosiers from getting steamrolled for a second straight game by the Illini, the sluggish start had Crean and his team wondering what might have been if their first-half approach had mirrored what they did in the second half.
"We weren't mentally into it," Story said. "We were really flat, we weren't moving the ball, we were a step slow on everything. We came in and watched a little film and realized what we had to do. We played harder, got the crowd into it, and that got us into it even more and we tried to win it from there."
That didn't happen, thanks to a first-half deficit that was too much to overcome.
"I'd like to see what we could do if we didn't let a team get that kind of lead to fall back on," Crean said.
Pritchard 2-6 2-7 6, Taber 2-3 1-2 5, Roth 4-7 2-3 13, Jones 3-7 3-5 9, Williams 3-10 0-0 8, Moore 1-2 0-0 2, Story 3-9 3-7 9. Totals 18-44 11-24 52.
Davis 7-12 2-2 16, Tisdale 8-12 0-0 16, Meacham 1-4 0-0 3, Frazier 4-9 0-1 9, McCamey 0-5 2-2 2, Jordan 2-2 0-1 4, keller 3-8 0-0 6, Brock 1-1 0-0 2, Cole 0-0 0-0 0, legion 2-3 2-2 7. Totals 28-56 6-8 65.
3-Pointers: Indiana 5-11 (Roth 3-6, Williams 2-2, Story 0-2, Jones 0-1), Illinois 3-10 (Legion 1-2, Meacham 1-2, Frazier 1-4, Tisdale 0-1, McCamey 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 27 (Taber 7), Illinois 37 (Davis 10). Assists: Indiana 12 (Jones 3, Pritchard 3), Illinois 19 (Frazier 7). Turnovers: Indiana 13, Illinois 11. Blocks: Indiana 2, Illinois 10. Steals: Indiana 6, Illinois 5. Fouled Out: Illinois – Meacham, Tisdale. Technicals – Illinois – Brock. Attendance: 17,346. Officials: Ted Hillary, J.D. Collins, Donnee Gray.
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