Illinois is a different team when Brian Cook is on the bench, but Indiana is even more dependent on big man Jeff Newton. Newton left the game with over 12 minutes remaining in the first half with two personal fouls. Indiana continued to battle Illinois, trailing 20-19 with 6:20 remaining. Then, Illinois exposed Indiana's dependence on Newton.
The Fighting Illini closed the half on a 17-2 run. Indiana did not have an answer as Illinois continued to put points on the board and gain more and more momentum. Then, Bracey Wright left for the locker room after taking an elbow to the eye. Indiana's lineup consisted of Coverdale, Hornsby, Strickland, Kline and Roberts. Illinois realized Indiana had no way of generating offense and thus Illinois picked up its defensive intensity. At half time, Illinois led Indiana 37-21.
The game appeared to be a repeat performance of the 80-54 shellacking Illinois gave the Hoosiers in their last meeting in Champaign. However, Indiana did not give up. The Hoosiers stormed out of the locker room, scoring the first six points of the half. They continued to battle back against Illinois, but every time they had a chance to take the lead Brian Cook would respond for the Fighting Illini. Cook made sure Indiana could never take the lead even at the end of the game. He made his final two free throws to make it a two-possession game at 73-69 with five seconds left in the game.
Despite losing the game, Indiana played as well as it has in any game during the Big Ten season. The Hoosiers showed heart by battling back and never throwing in the towel as they have several times this season. Tom Coverdale displayed the senior leadership Indiana has needed all year. Coverdale made three 3-pointers in the final two minutes of the game. He slashed to the basket more than he has all year, getting easy baskets for himself and his teammates. If Coverdale can continue to lead Indiana like he did against Illinois, the Hoosiers will be a factor in the NCAA Tournament.
George Leach played another solid game for Indiana. Leach aggressively attacked the basket, serving as a difference maker on offense and defense. Leach scored 14 points and added 8 rebounds, giving Indiana a post threat while Newton sat on the bench. Although Leach played well, he needs to focus on catching the ball. He is not gifted with good hands, and he made several costly turnovers during the game when he was unable to handle passes inside. Nonetheless, the Hoosiers are a good team when Leach plays as well as he did against Illinois.
The Hoosiers are also tough to beat when they outrebound their opponents. Indiana outrebounded the Fighting Illini 29-24, including an 11-7 edge on the offensive glass. Coach Davis might want to consider telling Leach to stay at home and block out his man rather than trying to block every shot. When Leach rebounds well, Indiana can hold its opponents to one shot. The threat of Leach and Newton as shot blockers is enough to make a difference in the paint.
The Hoosiers can build off of this loss. They finished the regular season in a tailspin, losing at Penn State, but they played three good games in the Big Ten Tournament. Different players played well in different games. If Davis can get everyone on the same page, Indiana can be a factor.
Now, the Hoosiers have to play the waiting game. They figure to be a 6 or 7 seed, but they could be as high as a 9 seed. Indiana matches up well with many of the better teams in the country, but it does not want to see a team with a dominant frontcourt. As long as Newton can stay out of foul trouble, the Hoosiers have a chance to win.
Hoosiers Show Heart
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