Indiana Daily Student

Indiana men’s basketball surrenders to No. 18 Illinois’ interior presence, firepower

<p>Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis drives against Illinois junior center Kofi Cockburn on Feb. 5, 2022, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Jackson-Davis scored 6 points in the loss to Illinois.</p>

Junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis drives against Illinois junior center Kofi Cockburn on Feb. 5, 2022, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Jackson-Davis scored 6 points in the loss to Illinois.

Indiana men’s basketball had a week of preparation ahead of its matchup against the top-ranked team in the Big Ten, No. 18 Illinois. Despite the time off, the team couldn’t come up with an effective strategy against Illinois’ interior dominance and perimeter shooting, dooming it to a 74-57 defeat Saturday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

The Hoosiers used scoring from a plethora of players to hang on by a thread at halftime with a 36-34 lead, but their downfall against the Fighting Illini came through mismatches in the paint on both ends of the court. A refusal to get its players as involved in the second half did little to help matters.

“It's happened before in the past with us,” senior forward Race Thompson said. “The game's not over at halftime.”

A 19-11 run to start the game was orchestrated by senior guard Parker Stewart’s pair of 3-pointers and eagerness to find looks down the lane from, along with Thompson’s awareness and quick-thinking in the post.

With senior guard Rob Phinisee sidelined due to plantar fasciitis, freshman guard Tamar Bates played crucial minutes and scored all 6 of his points in the first half.

Related: [Second-half cold spell dooms Indiana men’s basketball at home against No. 18 Illinois]

Similar to the limited playing time and foul trouble that plagued his night in Indiana’s upset win over No. 4 Purdue on Jan. 20, junior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis struggled to stand his ground as the primary defender against Illinois junior center Kofi Cockburn.

The feeling of frustration between the Hoosier big men was mutual.

“I didn't really have him in my way tonight,” Thompson said about Cockburn. “Just kind of running circles around him, really. I tried to tell Trayce and Mike that. On the defensive end, he's definitely tough. He's heavy, he's strong.”

Cockburn, a 7-foot, 285-pound big man who averages 21.8 points per game and 11.4 rebounds per game, forced Jackson-Davis to the bench with two fouls before five minutes came off the clock in the first half.

In Jackson-Davis’ absence on the court, senior center Michael Durr stepped up and held Cockburn to 5 first-half points. Durr’s hustle and physicality seemed to take Cockburn by surprise, and that effort led to momentum-swinging rebounds on both ends of the court.

Related: [COLUMN: Jackson-Davis struggles to create offensively in Indiana’s loss to No. 18 Illinois]

Cockburn made up for his lack of scoring with persistence, though, and regained ownership of the paint in due time. Durr picked up three fouls of his own by halftime, leaving the Hoosiers in a complicated rotational mind game heading into the second half. Durr ended up fouling out of the game in the second half.

“I mean, you can't make (Cockburn) disappear,” Woodson said. “They just sit him back in there, let him clog the middle up and say, ‘Beat me on the perimeter.’”

Cockburn, a front-runner for Big Ten Player of the Year, had a 12-point second half, but the differences between the two teams’ offensive firepower became evident in the closing 20 minutes.

In the final 13 minutes, Illinois closed what was previously a back-and-forth battle with a 32-11 run through a barrage of 3-pointers. Senior guard Trent Frazier, who finished with a game-high 23 points, led the way for Illinois with three of its 10 3-pointers of the afternoon as part of a 43% shooting mark by the team. The space Indiana’s defense let Illinois’ shooters work with was reminiscent of a similar rotational breakdown in its loss to Michigan on Jan. 23.

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Senior guard Xavier Johnson was at the center of the offensive creativity Indiana could muster. He finished with the second-best scoring mark of all Indiana players with 12 points, posted a game-high five rebounds by halftime and dished out a game-high five assists.

Though Indiana struggled to get into a rhythm in the second half, a pair of flashy assists from Johnson to Jackson-Davis gave Indiana a much-needed boost as Illinois was within striking distance.

No Indiana player scored more than 6 points in the second half, and Jackson-Davis’ one-on-one efforts against Cockburn in the paint ended in awkward trip-ups and no-calls coupled with simple rebounds for Illinois.

“They put a solid 40-minute ball game together and we put a 20-minute ball game together,” Woodson said. “The three-point shot got away from us again tonight. We never really recovered from it.”

Indiana won’t have much time to dwell on Saturday’s loss with a matchup with Northwestern looming. The game will tip-off at 9 p.m. Tuesday in Evanston, Illinois.

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