It will all come down to the final week of the regular season.
IU couldn’t find a way in a tightly contested and well played battle in Champaign, Ill. on Sunday afternoon, and as a result the Hoosiers now need to win their last two games of the regular season in order to feel comfortable about the NCAA Tournament.
The Hoosiers kept things close throughout and had the ball in their final possession with a chance to tie or take the lead. Instead, IU fell 67-66 at Illinois.
Indiana (18-11, 8-10) will host Minnesota on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. ET.
Illinois jumped out to a 20-16 lead but the Hoosiers responded with a 12-3 run of their own, capped off by a junior guard Aljami Durham and-one with 4:36 remaining in the first half to give IU a 28-23 lead. But that would be their largest lead of the game.
After falling behind, 47-42, redshirt freshman Jerome Hunter hit back-to-back 3-pointers to regain the lead for the Hoosiers, 48-47, at the 12:53 mark of the second half.
Indiana competed hard in this one, the third straight road contest where the effort level has not been the issue.
“Our effort is really good,” IU head coach Archie Miller said. “The commitment to what we’re doing is really good.”
Illustrating the effort, the Hoosiers had a 39-31 edge on the glass against an Illinois squad that was top five nationally with a plus 8.9 rebounding margin coming in.
“For us to be plus-8 on the glass and only turn the ball over 10 times is a recipe for success,” Miller said. “If we stick to that, we can find ways to win a lot more games.”
Neither team would lead by more than seven, and that was the margin the Illini held with just over five minutes remaining before IU rallied late.
Indiana did enough to win this game, but two missed free throws and then a turnover in the final seconds ended all hope for the Hoosiers.
The IU bench outscored Illinois 21-11.
To their credit, IU made some big plays down the stretch. Hunter hit his three-pointers in consecutive possessions with around 13 minutes left in the game, and then Al Durham and Rob Phinisee both connected from long range in the final two minutes of the contest.
“We had had some guys make some nice reads and make a couple of big shots,” Miller said. “Devonte kicked to Jerome (Hunter for a three-pointer). Al did a good job on a bump read. He made a shot.”
After a 49 point effort at Purdue on Thursday that saw the Hoosiers struggle to get anything going, several players improvised and just made plays within the flow of the game.
“That’s what you need on the road. At some point in time you have to make some offensive plays that the coach doesn’t script up,” Miller said. “Your guys gotta be confident and make plays.”
IU had just 10 turnovers on the road to go with 12 assists. The Hoosiers also ran their offense more effectively, setting better screens, reading the defense, and knocking down shots in rhythm.
“Today we executed better, and I thought we got some better play out of guys and we were able to score a little bit better,” Miller said.
The Hoosiers shot 50 percent from three-point range (8-of-16), but just 40.7 percent overall. Their inability to convert in the paint was costly, and was in part influenced by Illinois center Kofi Cockburn and his six blocked shots .
IU shot a good percentage from the charity stripe (10-of-12, 83 percent), but didn’t get there nearly enough for a team that relies on the line for a meaningful portion of their offense.
Indiana only allowed two points over a key stretch in the final five minutes of the game to allow for their late rally.
“At the end of the day, to get the two to three stops when we really needed them to have a chance to win, we did that,” Miller said.
While IU has often folded on the road when things appeared to be slipping away late, the Hoosiers dug in and got stops.
“I’m proud of our guys for continuing to fight through,” Miller said.
But there was a stretch right before that where Indiana kept allowing Cockburn to establish position low and he scored a field goal and added four free throws as part of a decisive 9-0 run.
“They went inside like most teams do against us,” Miller said. “Big Kofi was tough for us around the rim. He got some free throws and, to his credit he made them.”
The Fighting Illini outscored IU 32-28 in the paint.
Illinois had a 17-10 edge in made free throws and in a one-point game Miller believes that was a key difference. “That was pretty much the difference in the game, getting to the line and making them,” he said.
Indiana was only able to force 7 turnovers, which created enough possessions for Illinois to overcome a poor shooting day from long range.
For the fourth-straight game, Indiana held its opponent to under five 3-pointers made with Illinois going 4-of-12 (33.3 percent) from behind the arc.
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Joey Brunk* (C) Once again Brunk was unable to stay on the floor with foul trouble. IU was unable to utilize the help he might have been on Cockburn.
- Justin Smith* (B-) Smith took some ill advised jump shots but overall hustled and made some key baskets to open the second half and keep things close.
- Trayce Jackson-Davis* (B) It was another double-double for Jackson-Davis, but he was not a major factor in the second half, overshadowed by Cockburn. He also missed two critical free throws late.
- Al Durham* (B) It was a steady road performance from Durham, including his job pitching in on defending Ayo Dosunmu. Durham said that his arm was hit on a late missed three-pointer. He made his other two attempts from deep. On at least two occasions Durham seemed to have trouble catching the ball.
- Rob Phinisee* (B-) It wasn’t an efficient day, but Phinisee made a few big shots and headlined the defensive effort on Dosunmu, who had an inefficient 17 points. The replay clearly showed that Phinisee’s foot was stepped on in the final seconds, causing him to trip.
- Jerome Hunter (B) Hunter did exactly what IU needs him to do — stretch the floor and make big shots. He should probably be playing more minutes at this point to help create a more dynamic offense, and he needs to start attacking more off the bounce.
- Devonte Green (C+) Consecutive threes helped to give IU an early lead, but Green was inefficient the rest of the way and surprisingly only played 17 minutes.
- Race Thompson (B-) After several big games, Thompson wasn’t as impactful in this one and committed several fouls as he struggled at times to defend the post.
- De’Ron Davis and Armaan Franklin also appeared in the game.
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