BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Three consecutive losses have No. 25 Indiana in desperate need of a Big Ten win at home when Illinois visits Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Saturday.
The Hoosiers (10-5, 0-2) have already dropped conference games at home to No. 13 Wisconsin and Nebraska, primarily because of defensive lapses. While coach Tom Crean’s team is again adept at scoring, the recent inability to get stops has put the squad in a hole rather early on in conference play.
“Our concepts, schemes, things we wanted to do defensively, those were not what beat us,” Crean said after a 75-68 loss Tuesday to the Badgers. “It was the next pass or being in overhelp. And when we struggled, that’s when those have been our issues, and we’ve got to get it corrected. Constantly.
“And it’s not like I’ve got to go back and say, ‘wow, we better really work on challenging shots more.’ We have done it every day since they got back to school. We did it in the summertime. And we did a really good job. We were the No. 1 three-point shooting defensive of all the Big Ten teams going into last week, and we certainly haven’t done that this last week.”
The Fighting Illini (11-4, 1-1) have had five days to prepare after a 75-70 home win over Ohio State.
“It just came down to players making a play or two,” said Illinois coach John Groce. “The game could have went either way. I’m happy that our guys obviously made some of those plays toward the end.”
Groce’s team dropped its Big Ten opener 84-59 at Maryland and has lost three in a row to the Hoosiers.
“We felt like we needed to really be more resilient and be able to handle another team’s run,” he said of bouncing back from a loss.
Indiana’s inability to guard well was most evident at the end of the Wisconsin game, when the Badgers went on a late 7-0 run. The Hoosiers’ leading scorer, junior guard James Blackmon Jr. at 16.8 points per game, was on the bench as Crean searched for the right defensive combination.
Junior guard Robert Johnson, the team’s second-leading scorer, has struggled to find his shot in the past two games, too. He’s averaging 13.7 points, but has shot 5 of 22 in the past two games.
“They’re a hard-working group,” Crean said of his players. “They’re resilient. They have been resilient. They will be. The hard work, character of those kids, I have no issue with it. We have a long season. That’s what we have to focus on.”
Illinois senior guard Malcolm Hill averages a team-high 18.7 points, including 20.6 in the past three games. Senior guard Tracy Abrams averages 11.5 points and sophomore forward Leron Black is scoring 10.5 per game.
The Fighting Illini average 78.1 points while allowing 71.2. The Hoosiers average 85.3 points while allowing 68.7. But in the three-game losing streak, Indiana has averaged 71 points while allowing 79.6.
“The fight in us has to be better,” said Indiana sophomore forward Juwan Morgan.