CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — IU was a complete shell of itself in the second half Wednesday night against Illinois, and the Hoosiers strayed away from the most consistent asset that was working all night long.
The Hoosiers racked up 18 turnovers and missed 13 free throws, but the one thing that seemed to be beating Illinois time and time again was ignored during the second half of IU's 73-71 loss to Illinois.
Junior forward Juwan Morgan owned the paint, and it seemed like he could get his way any time he wanted. He missed two field goals the entire night, and almost every time he drove to the basket he scored.
So why didn’t the Hoosiers take advantage of Morgan’s dominance for the entire 40 minutes?
There was a stretch in the second half where, for seven minutes and 54 seconds, neither team made a single field goal. Morgan was on the bench for just one minute and six seconds of that stretch, so it’s inexcusable for IU’s failure to hit a basket and move away from feeding the post as much as the Hoosiers did throughout the rest of the game.
Guard play was a huge factor for this.
Senior guards Josh Newkirk and Robert Johnson and sophomore guard Devonte Green struggled heavily with the ball in the second half. The three players combined for seven of IU’s 11 total turnovers in the second half, but it could be said that this wasn’t the biggest issue between the guard trio.
The post feed wasn’t there, and the guards didn’t provide much of it in the final 20 minutes. Illinois locked up on defense and forced the Hoosiers into some bad decisions, and IU’s inconsistency from the field hurt itself even more.
Newkirk made some head-scratching decisions, including a wild pass into the crowd that was intended for his teammate, who happened to be at least five feet away from the ball’s trajectory. He was immediately, and rightfully, benched by IU Coach Archie Miller before Newkirk could realize what he had just done.
“I think their pressure was up,” Miller said. “You try to keep it spaced as much as possible. I thought they played their ball-screen defense a little bit different a little bit later in the game. They kept us a little bit more stagnant. I thought our guards weren’t as good in the second half in handling it as much as we needed them to.”
Green didn’t help the cause and was all over the place. He and Johnson’s ball handling wasn’t up to par against the Fighting Illini defense, and because of the suffocating defense that pressured them, turnovers on top of turnovers were the result.
Even through many mistakes, missed free throws and fatigue, IU somehow found itself with the ball, down by two points, with eight seconds to play in the game.
And guess who had the ball, and the game, in his hands.
It was Green’s chance to shine and create something to save IU’s nightmare of a performance.
Instead, he embodied the team’s showing in one swift move.
Green took the ball through the middle of the court, and threw the ball at Morgan’s ankles, resulting in a turnover and the end of the game. To make things worse, Morgan was wide open, cutting to the basket, but Green had his head down while dribbling, so he completely missed him.
IU’s savior to win the game was wide open on the final play, and the one person who had the ball didn’t get it to him until it was too late.
The Hoosiers’ go-to player, the one guy who should be looked at in every position, was missed, and it was a shame he couldn’t be found on the final play. He could’ve saved the night and the rest of the season because at this point, this team hasn’t proved it can win on the road.
IU is 1-6 in true road games.
That doesn’t embody a team with NCAA Tournament hopes.
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