Upon Further Review: Illinois

Tom Crean's team found a way to remedy the lack of fight that it displayed earlier in the week against Ohio State, but it never did find an answer for Illinois big man Mike Tisdale. Hoosier Nation looks back at Indiana's 66-60 loss to Illinois and talks about what we found to be most impressive, surprising and concerning about the contest. We also name our game MVP…

Game MVP - Jordan Hulls. It was Hulls' 11 points in the game's first eight minutes that enabled to open a 10-point lead, a lead IU wouldn't relinquish until the final 80 seconds of the contest. In addition to making three 3-pointers, Hulls also wrestled away a loose ball early after a Jeremiah Rivers miss and scored on a putback, and he led the Hoosiers with three steals. All of that helped set the tone early and put IU in a position to win the game down the stretch. It was a nice bounce back performance for Hulls, who struggled at Ohio State on Wednesday with his shot (0-of-5 from 3-point range) and with turnovers (four of Indiana's 24).

Biggest Surprise… There was a very different approach from the Hoosiers this time around compared to the Ohio State game. That was obvious from the opening tip – offensively Jeremiah Rivers, Christian Watford and Verdell Jones attacked the rim off the dribble, and defensively the Hoosiers showed a lot more fight than they did against the Buckeyes. While that contributed to 28 fouls, 39 Illinois free throws and four Hoosiers ending the game with four fouls, there is something to be said for Tom Pritchard delivering a hard foul on Mike Tisdale to prevent a dunk, or in Jeremiah Rivers chasing down Brandon Paul and sending him to the line instead of giving up a fastbreak layup. Admittedly, the officials didn't do the Hoosiers many favors by calling a series of touch fouls in the post on Pritchard and Bobby Capobianco, which is a big reason why their minutes were limited by foul trouble. But this was a very different looking team than the one that was whipped by 25 in Columbus.

What I Found Most Impressive… I'll step off the court and say it was the A-List of recruits that Indiana had located behind its bench and in the north bleachers. Among the attendees were Washington junior Cody Zeller, Carmel sophomore A.J. Hammons, Winter Haven, Fla., junior Austin Rivers (younger brother of Jeremiah), Lawrence Central sophomores Jared Drew and Tyler Corley, Park Tudor's Yogi Ferrell, and Marquis Teague's father, Shawn. While Indiana didn't win the game, that crop of recruits was on hand for a tightly-contested game in front of a boisterous crowd. They were also able to see that with that sort of effort, Indiana as far away as some might have suspected from being back among the conference's elite. Indiana appeared to be light years away from that at Ohio State, but Saturday night's performance showed that they might only be a difference-maker or two away. One of those difference makers – Maurice Creek – was on the bench and will be back in the fold next fall.

What I Found Most Concerning… Indiana's inability to close. It probably shouldn't be a surprise considering the fact Crean's team remains one of the nation's youngest, but the Hoosiers were clearly in a position to win the game and couldn't seal the deal. The stage clearly had an impact on Derek Elston, a very good free-throw shooter who missed a couple of free throws badly with four minutes left and the game tied. Fellow freshman Christian Watford then missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:05 remaining that could have given Indiana the lead back. Illinois, meanwhile, got a wide open shot for D.J. Richardson to recapture the lead 61-60, and then added a perfect pick-and-roll from Demetri McCamey to Mike Tisdale to go up three. The Hoosiers didn't get the same sort of quality looks down the stretch, with Watford's drive and spin resulting in a blocked shot for Richardson with Illinois leading by three with 30 seconds left. Indiana figures to be make the Hoosiers much more competitive in league action this year compared to last, but they still aren't a team that's going to overwhelm Big Ten teams and win by 20 points. Instead, they're going to have to get stops, rebound, and execute offensively down the stretch to win games, and that was something that didn't happen Saturday.

Turning Point: After a Devan Dumes 3-pointer extended IU's lead to nine, 57-48, with 8:28 remaining, Illinois put together a 9-0 run to tie the game and ultimately set the stage for the Illini win. Mike Tisdale did much of the damage, scoring four of his six points during that stretch from the free-throw line. While Illinois was scoring on five of its seven possessions, Indiana went scoreless on eight straight trips. Verdell Jones missed a couple of 3-pointers and had a turnover during the Illini run, and Christian Watford missed a layup and was whistled for an offensive foul on an illegal screen. Illinois ultimately won this contest with its execution down the stretch, but it was this 9-0 run that put Bruce Weber's team in a position to have a chance to do that late.

"We were trying to be physical with (Tisdale). He's a great player. He's really, really long. It's hard – when you're in front they're going to throw over you, and when you're behind he can shoot over you. He's a really good player. We tried the best we could to keep him at bay, and he ended up being in the right spots at times." – Bobby Capobianco

"I think we all came out with a physical mindset. As for the referees calling the fouls, we just have to be smarter about how we're physical. We can't lose our physicality, we just have to be smarter." – Capobianco

"It was nice to be able to shoot well, but it came from my teammates getting me open and driving and kicking. They were open looks and I was able to knock them down tonight. That gave our team a little boost there in the beginning, but in the second half not so much on my part. I missed a couple open shots." – Jordan Hulls

"We fouled a lot, played with our hands too much, and bodied them and they killed us on the free-throw line. That's what won the game for them." – Hulls

"Well, there were two teams fighting tonight and fortunately we were one of them. Believe it or not, that's over half the battle in the stages of competing and trying to get people to understand what it takes to do that." – Tom Crean

"We have some very disappointed guys in the sense they know they could do more. It's a very hurt locker room. When you fight like that it should be." – Crean

"They were embarrassed the other night. They had physical practices and that's how they played. They just took it to us right from the get-go. They play well here. Our guys were a little bit stagnant, deer in the headlights, not responding to the physicality of the game." – Bruce Weber

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