CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - In a span of less than 30 seconds midway through the first half of a 92-74 win Thursday night at Illinois, IU achieved the free-flowing, idealistic style of play it has so often hinted at this season.
Redshirt senior forward Evan Fitzner made an open 3-pointer shortly after checking into the game via an assist from freshman guard Romeo Langford.
The ensuing defensive sequence turned the spotlight on junior forward De’Ron Davis. Plagued by bothersome injuries for much of the season, Davis rose near the basket to block a shot from Illinois junior guard Andres Feliz.
Junior guard Devonte Green grabbed the ball and smoothly transitioned it into IU’s offense, pushing the tempo as part of the fastbreak to find Langford, who was striding toward the rim. He gathered the ball and finished a routine layup in no time, capping an 8-0 run for the Hoosiers entering the under-12 media timeout.
It took 29 seconds for four of the five IU players on the court to each complete their designated roles, moments few and far between for Coach Archie Miller’s team this season.
But the Hoosiers are clicking now, as the sequence took them from being down by one point to up by four, marking the final lead change of the game and propelling the Hoosiers to their most convincing conference win of the season.
“We’re definitely playing better than we were,” Miller said. “Hard-fought games, we’ve been in a lot of them, but I feel like our team right now is in a position that we’ve earned some confidence back.”
It would be natural for confidence to return to the on-court exploits of the Hoosiers, who have won three straight games amidst a late-season surge back toward postseason relevancy.
Sitting at 16-14 overall and 7-12 in conference play, IU’s position as a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament remains far from popping as March enters its second week.
“I think we really got down and got back to the basics,” senior forward Juwan Morgan said. “I think it’s the perfect time, too.”
While there were clear moments in wins against Wisconsin and Michigan State when a single IU player – be it Langford or sophomore forward Justin Smith – took control of the game, all interested parties played a part Thursday.
Five Hoosiers scored in double figures, led by Morgan’s 20 points and also featuring the highest scoring game of freshman guard Rob Phinisee’s career, a 17-point outing.
IU had a 24-19 advantage in bench points, as well as a much more significant 52-26 lead over Illinois in points in the paint. This allowed the Hoosiers to lead by double digits for the final 21 minutes of the contest and send Fighting Illini fans streaming toward the exits with more than 10 minutes left on Senior Night inside the State Farm Center.
“To only turn it over seven times in here was a surprise, to be honest with you,” Miller said. “The fact we were able to score the ball speaks volumes about our guys just being able to take care of it."
Basic keys to basketball success were championed by Miller postgame. Creating transition offense by forcing turnovers on defense, establishing a post presence early in the game and creating the proper offensive spacing were all things identified by Miller as reasons for IU’s overwhelming offensive success against Illinois.
It came with a qualifier, though: The IU team that takes the floor at 12 p.m. Sunday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hallto finish the regular season against Rutgers must be the same team, from a mindset and performance standpoint, that took the court Thursday night.
“We always preach to each other that some team around this time will find exactly what they needed to do and just keep it going,” Morgan said. “I think we’re definitely one of those teams that could.”
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