CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Indiana’s improved road effort continued Sunday at the State Farm Center against Illinois, but once again it came in a loss.
Indiana’s 67-66 loss to Illinois wasn’t the result of anything particularly wrong the Hoosiers did.
Trayce Jackson-Davis had another double-double, the guard play was better and Indiana won the rebounding battle by eight.
But late foul calls didn’t go Indiana’s way, Jackson-Davis missed two crucial free throws and Illinois hit theirs to seal the win.
Here are five takeaways from the loss to the Fighting Illini:
· Indiana’s three main guards rose to the occasion: After a much-maligned showing during the Purdue loss, Al Durham, Devonte Green and Rob Phinisee attacked more offensively and produced points for Indiana.
There were still moments when Archie Miller wanted better direction in running the offense from his guards, but the three players combined for 34 points on 10-of-30 shooting from the field and 6-of-11 shooting from 3-point range.
It was a rare game in which all three players (as well as Jerome Hunter) made multiple 3-pointers.
Miller credited his team’s execution after the loss, in particular during sequences in which IU’s guards created for themselves rather than following a set play.
The three players combined for seven assists and only four turnovers, showing maturity in a difficult atmosphere.
· Late foul calls don’t go Indiana’s way: It’s hard for Indiana to not feel hard done by given the lack of calls that went its way in crunch time Sunday.
Al Durham appeared to be hit while attempting a 3-pointer that missed long, but the outrage toward that no-call was quickly replaced by anger at the next one.
Trayce Jackson-Davis missed a pair of free throws with about 10 seconds left, but the rebound from the second miss was corralled by Indiana and the ball found its way into the hands of Rob Phinisee. Phinisee then turned the ball over with about six seconds left, effectively ending IU’s comeback hopes once Ayo Dosunmu made his subsequent free throws, but Phinisee may have been tripped before he lost the ball.
Furthermore, there was the question of whether or not Illinois had complete possession of the ball during a scrum for it before the Fighting Illini called timeout.
Postgame, Durham said he thought he got hit on the arm while attempting the 3 and Jackson-Davis said he thought Phinisee was tripped.
There’s an element of luck that goes into all road wins and Indiana didn’t have that Sunday.
· Kofi Cockburn stars on the inside for Illinois: While Andres Feliz and Ayo Dosunmu combined for 32 points in the Illinois backcourt, it was freshman center Kofi Cockburn who shined brightest for the Fighting Illini in their victory.
He was disruptive on defense, recording six blocks and protecting the rim despite IU’s guards being eager to drive inside, and sometimes finishing in insane fashion.
More than anything else, Cockburn nullified Trayce Jackson-Davis’ offensive contributions in the second half, as Jackson-Davis scored just two points in the period.
Jackson-Davis said Illinois defended him differently in the second half. Giorgi Bezhanishvili pushed Jackson-Davis out of the lane, allowing Cockburn to sit inside and be a menace to attempted shots around the basket.
“Most of the time I was guarding non-shooters,” Cockburn said postgame.
He also contributed at the offensive end, scoring 15 points with five rebounds in 35 minutes.
· Indiana’s effort level on the road continues to improve: Following the 24-point loss to Michigan in the middle of February, Indiana has managed to regroup and find its footing on the road.
That’s translated into an important win at Minnesota, a loss at Purdue that displayed atrocious shooting but plenty of fight and a performance at Illinois in which the Hoosiers battled for all 40 minutes.
It’s a welcome change for a team that struggled with just basic effort when playing on the road earlier this season.
“We’ve just got to stop worrying,” Archie Miller said postgame. “You go out there and battle and you compete and that feels a lot better.”
Indiana’s two closest road losses of the season have come in the last week.
While there are no more road games on the schedule, it’s the competitive spirit discovered in these defeats that could spark future wins.
· Archie Miller finally makes a change to start the second half: Indiana’s frontcourt minutes have skewed heavily toward Race Thompson compared to Joey Brunk in recent weeks, and this trend continued Sunday when Thompson started the second half in Brunk’s place.
Both players had two fouls at the time, so it wasn’t a fluke either.
Given Thompson’s hard-nosed style of play, as well as his ability to score somewhat reliably, Miller broke precedent and didn’t field IU’s starting lineup to begin the second half.
Thompson has played 21 or more minutes in each of IU’s last four games.
During that same stretch, Brunk has played 14 or fewer minutes, and this theme should continue with Indiana set to play elite big men in Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu and Wisconsin’s Nate Reuvers to close the season.
Photo credit: Illinois Athletics