The IU men’s basketball defense had been lethargic in its past three games.
During IU’s three game losing streak, the Hoosiers allowed nearly 80 points per game while their opponents shot 50 percent from the field. Saturday when the Illinois Fighting Illini and its fourth best scoring offense in the Big Ten came to Bloomington, the Hoosiers had to lock down on defense. They did just that – in the first half at least.
The Hoosiers raced out to a 15-0 start and the Illini didn’t make their first field goal until the 13:23 mark of the first half. The stingy IU defense held Illinois to 29 percent shooting at halftime and held on enough in the second half to snap its three-game losing streak and win 96-80.
“In this game we had really good movement, we had good energy defensively, our deflections were up,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “We had 38 deflections each the last two games, today we had 37 at half. That’s the story to me, when it comes to defensively.”
For as good as the IU defense played in the first half, they were dismal in the second half. Illinois made its first three field goals out of intermission and with under-six minutes to play in the game, the IU lead that was once at 22 was down to nine points.
Illinois ended up shooting 57 percent from the floor in the second half while outscoring the Hoosiers 51-48, but the 15-0 run by the Hoosiers to start the game was enough to keep the lead intact all night. Sophomore forward Thomas Bryant said the Illini weren’t doing anything differently in the second half on offense, they were just making tough shots.
Crean had high praise for Illinois coach John Groce on how his team never went away in the game.
“John is doing an excellent job with them and it’s an excellent example because nobody goes away in the Big Ten,” Crean said. “Nobody is just going to say, ‘OK it’s over’, they’re a great example of that, we knew they were gonna keep coming.”
A large reason for Illinois’ scoring outburst after halftime was the fact that their best player, senior forward Malcolm Hill who picked up three fouls within the first four minutes of the game, was back on the floor.
Crean said Hill, who averages nearly 19 points per game, was their main focus coming into the game. Even though he had just two points in the first half because of foul trouble, the senior still finished the game with 21.
Fouls played a large factor as well with 49 combined called in the game. Crean said his guys were a little slow defensively to start the second half because they were worried about fouling.
Five Hoosiers ended the game with four or more fouls.
“It was just foul calls you know, you just have to be in better position,” sophomore forward Thomas Bryant said. “It’s all fine, we just have to work through it. That’s all.”
IU still matched its points allowed mark over the past three games Saturday against Illinois, but when the defense can play well for short spurts, the high powered IU offense will be there to compliment it.
“I’m certainly not saying we played some outstanding game,” Crean said. “We played a really hard aggressive 40 minutes against a good challenger and a team that wasn’t going to go away. But our guys just continued to stay locked in and they never lost confidence and I never saw that head drop. And that’s so important with a young team.”