Indiana won a knock down drag out half-court defensive battle by 10 points. Everyone should be pretty happy with that. Though Indiana still looks lost at times on offense the Hoosiers were able to go up against a team that has beaten them once this year and with with a decent cushion. Though the free throws pushed the game up to ten points, the margin hung around 6 for most of the game.
Indiana and Illinois played a game of punch and counter-punch, but the favor never really fell too far from the Hoosiers. At their lowest point, Indiana's minimum win probability was 60.9% when they trailed 5-2 in the first three minutes. Illinois did take the lead one more time after that point in the second half, but it was short lived as Indiana responded to pretty much all of Illinois' hits with bigger hits of their own.
The first half of this game was especially an interesting monster. Will Sheehey, Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh had a combined 2 points, yet the Hoosiers still led at the half by a score of 26-24. Austin Etherington paced the Hoosiers with 7 points that he scored in an aggressive fashion. It was really a lot of fun to see him come alive. Etherington was making great basket cuts that reminded you of a younger WIll Sheehey and he was aggressive with the basketball. That aggression took a back seat in the second half as the bigger players took over, but he's a real big reason yesterday ended the way it did. Etherington's final line was 7 points, 2 rebounds and 1 steal for a 113 ORtg. Quality play for a role player.
The freshmen also played a big role in yesterday's game. Despite Vonleh's 4 points on offense he was an absolute force on the boards. Pulling in 14 rebounds on the day, Vonleh was the biggest factor in the Hoosiers outrebounding the Illini by 14. What had been a strong rebounding team going into the day yesterday, Illinois has now fallen to 6th in offensive rebounding and 7th in defensive rebounding. A lot of that has to do with the very big numbers Indiana put up on them all day.
Outside of Vonleh, Troy Williams also had himself a day. Limiting himself to 1 turnover in 17 minutes he appears to be finding some control to his game as the season progresses. No longer is he pushing as hard to do crazy highlight reel plays. In the last couple games he's been calm, in control and just allowing the game to come to him. He flashed a gorgeous turnaround jumper from 8 feet and proved to be an asset to Indiana for the whole 17 minute stretch of game he played. Now he still is getting lost on offense and is prone to standing around which causes the rest of the offensive set to break down, but the freshman is coming along.
Finally, a lot of credit should go to the team defense that was played yesterday. IU played a ton of the dreaded zone defense against Illinois and it worked very well. Indiana held Illinois to .72 points per possession and 12 points under their conference average. Despite scoring 20 points, Indiana actually did a pretty decent job defending Rayvonte Rice. He's just such a big physical guy that unless Stan Robinson was on him, he bullied every other defender. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the player on that one.
Still, despite letting Rice get his, the Hoosiers held the rest of the Illini squad to single digit scoring. No one else peaked an offensive rating of 81. Which means that no on even came close to any sort of efficiency against the Hoosiers. That should make most fans feel really good. Especially the ones that showed a lot of concern and hand wringing when we switched to a zone defense. We at least know that we can stop poor shooting teams with that strategy, which should bode well for remaining games against teams like Purdue, Northwestern and Penn State.
Ultimately, Indiana did in this game what they needed to do. The offense, despite being pretty ineffective for stretches actually looked a lot more fluid. There was off the ball movement and plays developed from more than just ball screens for Yogi Ferrell. If we could just hit some shots with any consistency yesterday would have been a blow out. Still, feeling pretty good about the results. I don't believe this should change a lot of season long outcomes, but if gives you an idea that perhaps Indiana could turn a corner and make some noise. I think the best barometer of that is if they Hoosiers can get a win on the road Thursday against the upstart Nebraska Huskers.