Good, Bad and Ugly: Illinois
THE GOOD: CONSISTENCY, EXECUTION, AGGRESSION.
The Good Hoosiers showed up tonight in Bloomington. After the Bad Hoosiers lacked any sense of urgency in Columbus earlier this week, IU was a completely different squad this evening. They played like they wanted to win, like they deserved to win.
Perhaps this is just what we’re in for this season: a bit of deer-in-the-headlights-what-are-we-doing play on the road, while on its home court, Indiana plays with the utmost confidence. If the Hoosiers can give this kind of effort inside Assembly Hall every time out, they’ll be in most, if not all, of their home contests.
IU rattled off 41 points in the first half, and looked like a team on a mission. They were executing at both ends of the floor. One thing I want to point out during that impressive first 20 minutes: there’s a reason Jordan Hulls is starting alongside Jeremiah Rivers in the backcourt: his spot-up shooting ability. When Rivers is at his best on the dribble-drive and can draw help defense, Hulls stays at home on the wing or corner and has enough spacing to elevate and hit the three. And Rivers is athletic enough to take it all the way to the hole as well.
But when you’re hot, hot, hot, in the first half, you’re bound to cool in the second. Sure, the Hoosiers lacked some of that aggression and allowed Illinois to mount a comeback with their fouling, but IU’s shooting numbers tell a hot and cold tale: first half (14-of-25, 56 percent; 5-of-6 from three for 83.3 percent), second half (8-of-28, for 28.6 percent, 1-of-7 from three for 14.3 percent).
I expected Illinois to come back tonight, because it’s what they’ve done all season long: mount a comeback on a double-digit lead, get it close, and then go to war in the final few minutes. The Illini simply executed better down the stretch. Bruce Weber drew up a play for freshman D.J. Richardson when they were down one with 1:22 to go, and he hit the jumper. They hit their free throws down the stretch as well. IU didn’t, and hit a horrific scoring skid the last 8:28 of the game, getting outscored 18-3. They only scored 19 points in the second half.
Simply put, the better, more experienced team found a way to win this game this evening, because that’s what those kind of teams do. IU is still figuring that out, and it was frustrating to see all the good the Hoosiers did in the first half come in a losing effort. The IU team of a season ago gets routed in this game. This current incarnation plays well enough, but can’t finish. Future incarnations find a way to win this game.
In due time, they’ll get there.
THE BAD AND UGLY: FOULS.
I’m not here to complain about the refs. There were only a few calls I wasn’t a fan of, and they really could have gone either way. But Indiana was so foul-happy tonight — and it wasn’t just on shot attempts, it was reach-ins, and moving screens, and fouls off the ball — that Illinois got a whopping 38 attempts at the line. And it was a big chunk of their first-half offense: Illinois took 23 fouls shots, and hit 16 of them. They had 28 points at half, so only 12 points came in other ways besides the charity stripe. IU also got crushed on the boards in the second half, getting out-rebounded 24-13.
The Illini were in the bonus early in the second half, and it allowed them to chop away at the lead without any time coming off the clock. They hit 11 of their 16 second-half attempts from the line, including some key ones in the clutch.
There’s a fine line between being aggressive and being over-aggressive when playing defense, and the Hoosiers crossed it at points tonight. Yet, this was just a Big-Ten bruiser of a game: it was physical, it was heated, and you saw some jawing and pushing on the court.
Perhaps the younger, less experienced team played into that a bit too much with all the fouling going on this evening.