Every facet of IU’s game against Illinois was off Wednesday night.
The student section couldn’t fill up half of the general admission section, Hoosier fans were scattered across the rest of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, and the game itself was one of the ugliest this season.
The energy just wasn’t there in Bloomington.
What was supposed to be a crucial matchup for IU’s postseason chances turned out to be a snooze fest by the time the second half was in full swing. There was little to no flow in the second period because of various stoppages in the game, and it was taking a toll on both teams.
The game was stopped 47 times throughout the night because of called fouls, and just when it seemed like there was any sort of a resemblance of flow, it all vanished when the next referee blew his whistle.
IU shot a season-low 17 shots in the second half, and only five Hoosiers shot the ball more than once in that period.
Yet we reached the end of the game after an eternity, and IU secured a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament on Feb. 14 with a 78-68 victory.
Junior forward Juwan Morgan was his usual self, scoring a reliable 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to secure his eighth double-double of the season. Illini junior forward Leron Black scored 20 points of his own while coming down with seven boards, but other than he and sophomore forward Kipper Nichols, there wasn’t much help.
This performance, regardless if they won or not, won’t look pretty on the Hoosiers’ resume for some sort of tournament bid in a few weeks, and it looks even uglier when the opponent on the other side of the court is the last-placed team in the Big Ten.
There were too many instances, especially in the first half, where IU committed unnecessary turnovers with sloppy passes. Illinois is a team known for its hard-pressed style of defense, but most of the Hoosiers’ mistakes were a result of self-inflicted wounds.
IU was making it hard on itself by making too flashy of a pass, or heaving the ball across the half court to find a semi-open man. Every single time, it resulted in an Illinois steal and an easy bucket on the other end of the floor.
“It’s a very disruptive half-court, man-to-man, literally four feet above their man,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “When you can’t make a pass, you’ve got to have guys that can put it down, make some plays for us.”
The problem was finding those types of players on the court, especially in the second half. No Hoosiers scored in double figures within the period, but guards Aljami Durham and Josh Newkirk provided pop off the bench, combining for 16 of the backcourt’s 21 points.
Even though it was ugly, it was an important win for IU regarding Big Ten play. The problem is, you wouldn’t have known that if you had showed up to Assembly Hall Wednesday night.
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