Indiana Daily Student

Hoosiers look for rare win in Champaign

Freshman James Blackmon Jr. drive the lane against Savannah State on Saturday at Assembly Hall.
Freshman James Blackmon Jr. drive the lane against Savannah State on Saturday at Assembly Hall.

Even in IU’s best years, it struggles to win at Illinois.

The Hoosiers have lost 11 of their last 12 games in Champaign, Ill., and they’ve done it in a multitude of ways.

Last season, it was a three-point overtime loss. Two years ago, a No. 1 IU team was beaten by a last-second layup. Two years before that, it was an embarrassing 24-point loss to end the regular season.

IU’s sole win in that stretch didn’t come easily. It took four Hoosiers scoring in double digits to pull off a double-overtime win in 2008 under former Coach Kelvin Sampson.

No doubt, the State Farm Center is a difficult place to play. Since its opening in 1962, the Fighting Illini have compiled a .787 winning percentage at home.

“They’re hard to beat there,” IU Coach Tom Crean said last season. “They don’t beat themselves.”

Throw in IU’s problems winning away from Bloomington this season and a key injury, and winning becomes even harder.

For the second time in two years, IU travels to Champaign with an uncertain frontcourt situation.

The last time IU went to Illinois — that overtime loss New Year’s Eve 2013 — it did so the day after 6-foot-11 freshman Luke Fischer departed the program. This time, IU makes the trip five days after losing another big man.

Junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea injured his right knee in practice Monday and missed IU’s game against Penn State the next day. The injury has the 6-foot-9 forward sidelined indefinitely.

That could spell trouble against 6-foot-11 Illinois center Nnanna Egwu. The senior doesn’t put up big numbers — 7.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game this season — but stands four inches taller than any player in IU’s regular rotation.

Egwu could shoulder a bigger part of Illinois’ offensive responsibilities with the loss of star guard Rayvonte Rice, the Big Ten’s fourth-leading scorer. Rice broke his left hand Jan. 5 and is slated to miss up to six weeks.

In Rice’s absence, sophomore guard Malcolm Hill has taken the majority of Rice’s left-behind shots.

In Illinois’ three games without Rice, Hill has averaged 16.7 points on 14 field goal attempts per game. His 28 points against Maryland were the key in Illinois’ upset win against the then-?No. 11 Terrapins.

He’ll likely draw a matchup with junior guard Yogi Ferrell, who Crean has placed on opponents’ top scorers over the past two seasons. On Tuesday, Ferrell held Penn State’s D.J. Newbill — the Big Ten’s top scorer — to just 12 points.

In IU’s last two trips to Illinois, it has failed to close out games after leading in the final minutes.

Finishing games hasn’t been as much of a problem for this year’s Hoosiers, who enter Sunday’s game after back-to-back one-possession wins.

After Tuesday’s three-point win against Penn State, Crean said his team has improved at sealing victories but still has ?improvements to be made.

“Fortunately for us, we’re learning how to close games, which is something we didn’t do a very good job of last year,” Crean said. “You know, part of it is growing up. Part of it is understanding what we’re trying to do.

“The answer would be belief.”

Like what you're reading?

Get more award-winning content delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for our Weekly Recap.

Signup today!
Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.

Powered by Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2023 Indiana Daily Student