While it lasted only a split-second Thursday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, time might as well have stood still for Juwan Morgan.
With just more than four minutes remaining in the first half of IU’s 73-65 win over Illinois, Morgan and his teammates were in search of a spark after trailing by as many as 10 points.
The Hoosiers managed to claw their way back to within four points of the Fighting Illini before Morgan made a defensive stand emblematic of the senior forward’s play this season.
He blocked a jump shot taken by Illinois junior guard Andres Feliz, gathered the defensive rebound and began to march down the court with the ball when Feliz fouled him. Morgan took a moment to glare at Feliz, like a disgruntled parent about to punish his or her child, before calmly making both of his free throws.
It was part of IU's 13-5 scoring run to close the first half, tying the game at 32, before the Hoosiers began the second period with 10 straight points from freshman guard Romeo Langford to help secure the victory.
“We just knew it was going to be a weird game just because of how frantic they play,” Morgan said. “I don’t think we ever really just sat back and just let them keep hitting us. We delivered a blow to them too.”
Langford’s first bucket of the second half, a jump shot made from the paint, gave IU a lead that grew to as many as 15 points and was never surrendered.
The win was the seventh consecutive victory for the No. 21-ranked Hoosiers and kept their perfect home record in place. IU is 10-0 this season in games played at Assembly Hall.
“We didn’t handle it well early,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “We got better defensively in the first half which allowed us to sort of creep back in and our defense was a big key for the halftime score being what it was.”
Morgan’s usual intensity and gritty play around the rim provided the Hoosiers with the energy needed to complete and maintain their first-half comeback, but it was Langford’s scoring that kept Miller’s team ahead on the scoreboard.
The 28 points from Langford were a career high, eclipsing the 22 points he scored during IU’s road loss at University of Arkansas in November 2018.
Langford’s statistical line was a model of efficiency against the Fighting Illini, as he recorded six rebounds and three assists alongside his 8-of-13 shooting performance.
“I feel like this was my best game so far,” Langford said. “All-around, maybe on the defensive end too. I am getting a lot more comfortable."
Free throws, which had been a blemish for both Langford and IU this season, also showed improvement against Illinois.
The freshman made 11-of-15 attempts from the charity stripe and the Hoosiers went 25-for-35 as a team.
Problems shooting the ball from distance were still apparent for IU though.
The Hoosiers went just 2-12 from 3-point range, tying their worst 3-point shooting performance of the season.
Despite the discrepancy in success between foul and 3-point shooting, Langford and Morgan helped generate enough points for an IU offense missing its starting point guard.
Freshman Rob Phinisee did not play while still recovering from a concussion suffered in late December 2018, allowing junior guard Devonte Green to take his place in the starting lineup.
Green had another turbulent game, making three of his 11 shots and committing four turnovers. When the Hoosiers emerged for the second half, a noticeable change was made not only by having Langford be more aggressive on offense, but also in giving him more ball-handling responsibilities instead of Green.
Of Langford’s 28 points, 19 came in the second half.
“I just wanted to pick up where I left off in the first half,” Langford said. “Whether that was attacking the rim and getting other people involved, and that’s what I did to get us going in the second half.”
The combined 43 points and 12 defensive rebounds by Morgan and Langford paced the Hoosiers at both ends of the court, helping negate strong scoring games from two Illinois freshmen – guard Ayo Dosunmu had 20 points, and forward Giorgi Bezhanishvili who had 18 points.
IU is now 20-2 under Miller when keeping opponents under 70 points scored, and Thursday’s win marked the Hoosiers' eighth consecutive win in which they had to overcome a deficit of at least five points.
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