Illinois stumbles in 84-71 loss to No. 23 Indiana

Illinois coach Bruce Weber is tired of watching his team

self-destruct in close games.

The young players just can’t seem to help themselves.

This time, the Fighting Illini committed 30 fouls and frittered

away their chance by giving up a late 15-6 run that allowed No. 23

Indiana to pull away for an 84-71 victory Thursday night.

”I’ve got to try,” Weber said when asked if the team is

staying positive. ”They’re playing against a Top 25 team on the

road. We played our butt off, we played some good basketball, we’ve

done it all year. We’re close, we’ve just got to see if we can

connect it all together.”

Clearly, it was another dismal night in what has already been a

challenging season. Illinois (16-8, 5-6 Big Ten) has lost five of

its last six and now plays three of its next four on the road.

The Illini had nobody to blame but themselves Thursday.

On a night that D.J. Richardson rediscovered his shooting touch,

finishing with 19 points, everyone else struggled. Brandon Paul,

the Big Ten’s No. 9 scorer was just 4 of 11 from the field and

finished with 13 points. Sophomore center Meyers Leonard picked up

three fouls in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the second half, going to

the bench with four fouls. He fouled out with 3:09 to go after

scoring 17 points.

Fouls were a common theme Thursday. Three Illini fouled out and

Indiana (19-6, 7-6) went 35 of 42 from the free throw line.

”The refs called good fouls, we made some stupid fouls in the

first half,” Richardson said. ”We’ve got to do a better job

attacking the basket. Their guys did a great job of that.”

And none of the Hoosiers’ took advantage of the Illinois miscues

more than Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo.

Zeller made nifty move after nifty move and drew foul after

foul. He finished with 22 points, five rebounds and went 5 of 8

from the field and 12 of 14 from the free throw line.

He had plenty of help, too

Oladipo and Christian Watford had 18 points and Jordan Hulls

finished with 15 points and seven assists as Indiana moved within

one victory of giving coach Tom Crean his first 20-win season since

leaving Marquette for the Hoosiers in 2008.

”You have to execute under pressure, that’s one of the greatest

forms of toughness you can have,” Crean said. ”But you have to be

able to play through contact as well.”

But the Illini, as usual, made things tough on Indiana.

For nearly 19 minutes, the teams traded possessions and baskets

and from the time Indiana blew a 13-6 lead until early in the

second half, neither team led by more than four points.

Indiana finally ended the tug-of-war with a quick 8-0 scoring

flurry early in the second half.

Hulls’ 3-pointer broke a 46-46 tie. Zeller then drew a foul on a

dunk and completed the three-point play to give Indiana a 52-46

lead. After Watford grabbed a loose ball and called time out,

Zeller drove in for a layup to make it 54-46 with 15:24 to

play.

”We were in the bonus pretty early, so I definitely wanted to

attack,” Zeller said of the Hoosiers’ second-half surge. ”Any

foul was going to be one or two free throws, so I definitely wanted

to be aggressive and get to the free throw line.”

Illinois responded with 3s from Paul and Richardson on

consecutive possessions. Paul followed that with a layup, then hit

1 of 2 free throws to get the Illini within 57-55 with 10:58 to

go.

With Illinois within 62-59, Zeller and Oladipo changed the

equation by drawing fouls.

They combined to make 5 of 6 free throws, starting the late 15-6

run that gave Indiana a 77-65 lead with 4:49 to go.

Illinois didn’t get closer than 10 points the rest of the

way.

”Our guys, they deserved it. It was a hard-fought game and they

deserved it because they played hard the entire way,” Crean

said.

Illinois, in contrast, must still figure out how to correct the

continual problems.

”Our kids played hard, they battled, they kept fighting,”

Weber said. ”The start of the second half was obviously a failure,

that and the fouls in the first half. We kept saying go to the

basket, you’re going to go to the free throw line because they had

to call it because they were calling it on the other end. We just

didn’t adjust enough.”