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Wednesday, Feb. 21
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

IU advances with 80-64 Illinois revenge

When a pair of D.J. Richardson free throws pulled Illinois within single digits of IU for the first time n the second half, the Pandora's box that plagued IU in its February upset to Illinois seemed on the verge once again.

However, history would not repeat itself.

IU scored five straight points to make the lead double-digits for good, then boosted the margin by consistently converting free throws. When junior guard Victor Oladipo slammed home a whirlwind dunk off an IU breakaway, the box was shut and sealed for good. The Hoosiers would soon have their largest lead of the day.

That late run, combined with first half dominance in the paint put No. 3 IU in front early and the Hoosiers never trailed on their way to a 80-64 drubbing of Illinois in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament at the United Center in Chicago.

"We defended at a very high level to hold a really good shooting team and a high scoring team when they get their offense rolling the way they're capable of, to hold them down in this game," IU Coach Tom Crean said. "Our whole focus was getting ready to play our best basketball today and hopefully we play even better basketball tomorrow."

Buoyed by 40 paints in the paint and a 38-26 edge on the glass, IU avenged it's Feb. 7 last-second upset in Champaign, Ill., in the process earning the team's first Big Ten semifinal appearance since 2006.

Sophomore forward Cody Zeller led the charge with 24 points as five Hoosiers reached double-figures. Junior guard Victor Oladipo posted his second consecutive double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

IU attacked the post early and often. Senior guard Jordan Hulls passed up a chance for his customary long jumper in favor of driving for a layup. His miss was swiftly put back by Zeller for the game's first score.

Hulls was not among IU's balanced scoring attack. He finished with just a single point off of a free throw, but also posted seven assists and three steals, helping to jump-start and facilitate the fast break attack throughout.

Despite consistent early penetration to the paint, though, IU was stymied by physical defense--resulting in several hard fouls-- and out-of-bounds turnovers in the paint.

The Illini, by contrast, settled mostly for long jumpers which clanged out of the basket in a 1-of-8 start. Junior forward Will Sheehey helped IU jump to a slow 10-2 lead due in part to a scoreless 6:07 from Illinois.

However, IU was nearly as stagnant offensively during much of that stretch. At one point, freshman guard Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell briefly lost track of the shot clock, tossing up an air ball at the buzzer.

On IU's next possession, though, Ferrell redeemed himself with a drive around the left of the lane. Finding himself behind the entire Illinois defense, he converted the easy layup.

That seemed to signal a renewed commitment to attacking the paint, led by Zeller, even as IU encountered flurries of shoulders and elbows each time it got inside.

"It's a priority for us every game, whether it's me or Christian getting it inside," Zeller said. "They were double teaming, so I was trying to find the open guy. But even if I don't score it, it opens up a lot of things for our shooters on the outside, and I thought we did a nice job of that and it opened up a lot."

On nearly every possession, be it a half court set or IU breakaway, the ball found itself in Zeller's hands under the hoop. The consistency allowed IU to push the pace to its desired speedy tempo and, if anything, past that point. On several occasions, Zeller tuned the ball over on the fast break in the pain, either on traveling or a fumble out of bounds.

Still, the pace nonetheless swung squarely in IU's favor as the half wore on, with Zeller taking an active role.

"He's a terrific player," Illinois Coach Jhon Groce said. "He's very versatile. One of the things he does really well, exceptionally well for a guy his size, is run. He can really run."

At a timeout, the game slowed and allowed Illinois to somewhat close the gap. After taking 14:36 to reach double digits and trailing by as many as 17 points, the Illini pulled within 12 of IU before a short Zeller jumper put IU up by 14 at the break.??

After making just a single 3-pointer in the first half, Illinois hit a pair early in the half and closed within 10. IU responded with a continued onslaught of the paint keyed by Zeller and, of all players, Ferrell.

Nursing an 11-point lead though, IU seemed to abruptly change tactics on offense. Like Illinois, IU made only one 3-pointer in the first half. The Hoosiers sank three of them, however, in a 4:05 stretch midway through the second period.

Illinois would soon pull within eight on Richardson's foul shots, but never any closer.

Richardson's 2-of-10 day was far from the only offensive letdown for the Illini. Primarily guarded by Oladipo, Brandon Paul neared his team-leading season average with 16 points, but needed 11-of-12 free throw shooing to get there. He was just 2-of-13 from the field.

Meanwhile, IU recovered from its own cold start to finish 27-50 from the field, many of the shots layups, tip-ins and the like from the paint. The mid-range game was virtually absent for IU. Only 19 of its points did not come from either the paint of the free throw line, and 15 of those were off 3-pointers.

"He's a great player and we tried to slow him down," Oladipo said. "He takes a lot of shots in order for them to win, so when you go against someone like that you got to force them to take tough shots and I think we did a great job of doing that.

Watford said IU's Illinois loss provided a learning experience that helped Friday.

"We learned from that game," Watford said. "We looked at the film last night and we looked at some things. We know we shouldn't have done some things. We let one get away. We knew what they do and we kept grinding it out and kept playing.

Saturday will provide a similar opportunity for revenge. IU plays next at 1:40 p.m. EST  against Wisconsin who, like Illinois, beat IU in the teams' sole regular season meeting. The Badgers remain the only conference team the Hoosiers have not beaten this year.

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