He meant this figuratively, of course, but the amount of fouls on the stat sheet suggest there was also a physical fight in the Big Ten contest.
Five Hoosiers had four fouls in the game, and IU recorded 28 personal fouls. Illinois took 39 free throws, while IU attempted only 18. And the Illini charted 27 points from the line, nearly half of their 66 total points.
After a first half which ended with a 41-28 Hoosiers lead, constant fouls broke IU’s offensive rhythm and stopped the clock to allow Illinois time for a comeback.
IU scored eight second-half field goals on 28 percent shooting and couldn’t put away a team it led by as many as 15 in the first half.
“Our guys have got to learn that even when the foul situation is the way it is and when the bonus situation is the way it is, we can’t go back on our heels,” Crean said. “That’s so hard for a young team to understand.”
Illinois coach Bruce Weber’s club was also more proficient than the Hoosiers from the free-throw line.
IU posted 55 percent shooting from the stripe, and freshman forward Christian Watford missed a free throw that could have tied the game at the 1:05 mark of the second half.
IU averages about 20 fouls per game for the season but was recently challenged to be more aggressive after a flat effort against Ohio State led to a 79-54 loss.
As is always the case with these Hoosiers, experience might have also played a part in the contest. IU’s opponents average more fouls at 21 per game, so it hasn’t played against a team shooting bonus foul shots as early as Illinois was.
Established teams can get the better half of foul calls, but they can also be craftier.
Many of IU’s fouls were either blatant push calls or clear reaches for the ball.
“I’m not going to teach grabbing and holding and all that stuff,” Crean said. “We use tennis balls when we do a lot of our defensive drills. I’m not going to stop doing that because we don’t have a margin for error to commit those fouls.”
Fouls helped the Illini narrow the gap between the two teams near the second half’s eight-minute mark. The Hoosiers had a 57-50 lead before the 7-foot-1 Illinois center Mike Tisdale scored 6 of his 27 points in a 7-0 run.
Tisdale sunk four free throws in that stint, guard Bill Cole added one from the charity stripe, and Tisdale flushed a two-handed dunk to tie the game.
The big man was 13-of-14 from the free-throw line and racked up fouls on the IU front court. Freshman forward Bobby Capobianco and sophomore forward Tom Pritchard each had four fouls by game’s end.
Weber said his team came to Bloomington with the intent of capitalizing on its size in the post.
“They got us to the free-throw line; got them in foul trouble,” Weber said. “It stopped the clock, allowed us to score without the clock moving and it was important but that was part of our strategy. ‘Hey, we have an advantage. Go in to Tisdale.’”
Fouls weren’t limited to defenders in the painted area, thanks largely to Illinois guard Demetri McCamey.
He went 11-of-16 from the stripe in scoring 19 points and tallying 9 assists. IU had no player take more than five free throws.
“We played with our hands too much, and they killed us on the free-throw line,” Hulls said. “That’s really what won the game for them, I think. They got to the free-throw line way more times than we did, and that killed us.”
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