CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — In the second half, it all came undone for IU.
One half away from securing its fifth victory in six games and heading into a rivalry matchup against Purdue with significant momentum, IU couldn’t hold onto a halftime lead against Illinois.
Missing eight free throws in the second half Wednesday night, the Hoosiers fell 73-71 to Illinois, which was previously winless in Big Ten play.
Illinois’ first-year Coach Brad Underwood brought an aggressive, pressure defense with him to Illinois. It's a defense different from most teams in the Big Ten. While IU handled the pressure well in the first half, that defense began to wear down the Hoosiers after halftime.
In the second half, IU turned the ball over 10 times and scored under a point per possession.
“We weren’t as focused on that side of the ball,” junior forward Juwan Morgan said. “We weren’t as poised as we were in the first half.”
Even though the Hoosiers struggled in the second half, they had a chance to win or send the game into overtime in the final seconds. However, sophomore guard Devonte Green bounced a pass to Morgan that was too much for him to handle, resulting in IU's 19th turnover of the night.
The play epitomized the game for IU as its second-half performance cost itself a winnable game as mistakes on both ends doomed the Hoosiers.
On the defensive end, IU only gave up nine made field goals in the second half, but couldn’t stop sending Illinois to the foul line. After Illinois only shot two free throws in the first half, the Illini got to the line 30 times in the second half.
With IU unable to get stops, it allowed Illinois to step up its defensive pressure, which affected IU’s offense.
IU Coach Archie Miller said his team’s turnover numbers rose in the second half because the Hoosiers were bogged down in the half court with the pressure.
“They really forced the action in the second half and took control of them game,” Miller said. “We just didn’t have the energy boost that we needed in the second half defensively.”
IU’s second half problems were apparent, but the Hoosiers could have had larger than a six-point lead going into halftime.
“When you get a lead like nine, you want to try and push it to 11, 12, then 15, 16 and just keep pushing on the gas,” Morgan said. “Illinois is a great team. They fought back, got to give them credit.”’
Erasing IU’s halftime lead with ease just minutes into the second half, Illinois tied the game in just under 90 second-half seconds. IU would regain the lead and the teams would seesaw for the first 10 minutes of the half. However, after IU led by two with 12:42 to play, the Hoosiers would never lead again.
For a long period, neither team’s offense could score a basket as both teams went over seven minutes without a field goal. What looked so easy for IU in the first half – being able to feed Morgan in the post – evaporated completely in the second half.
The ball movement and shooting vanished and IU did not make a single three-pointer in the second half.
After making the critical plays down the stretch of the Maryland game Monday, it was Illinois which made the big shots late to hold on to the victory.
Any victory during this stretch of seven games in 17 days is crucial for IU, and with IU’s second-half woes, a conference victory slipped through IU’s fingers.
“The way I think, every loss will come back to haunt us,” Morgan said. “I think we should be able to win every game no matter what. That’s just the confidence I have in this team.”
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