As in the first meeting with Illinois, the Hoosiers played well enough to win for much of the game but could not hold off the Illini in the end. For much of the first half, the Illini looked poised to run away with the game. With 5:29 remaining in the half, Illinois led 28-15, but the Hoosiers stormed back and narrowed the lead to 36-31 with 1:27 remaining. After layup by Verdell Jones with 7 seconds remaining, Devan Dumes stole the ball from Illinois and drained a halfcourt three pointer to tie the game at halftime. That sequence seemed to energize IU, and the Hoosiers led for most of the second half, but the Illini retook the lead with about two minutes remaining. Illinois had the ball and the lead with under 30 seconds remaining, but a Jeremiah Rivers steal, and more encouragingly, two made free throws after he was fouled, tied the game at 70, only to set up Demitri McCamey's dagger. McCamey beat Devan Dumes and drained a short pullup jump as time expired.
This one hurts, of course, and not because anyone expected IU to win. This game looked like a huge longshot, but for much of the second half it appeared that the Hoosiers would make up for the Iowa loss by stealing one from the Illini. Unfortunately, some bad breaks. some interesting calls (but such is life on the road), and poor defense on the final possession allowed the Illini to tie the all-time series at 82. IU managed to stay close despite a rough performance by Christian Watford (6 points, 3 rebounds, 1-10 from the field). How did they do it, despite being outshot by Illinois 49-35? Well, the Hoosiers rebounded well (41 percent of offensive opportunities while limiting Illinois to 37 percent), and took good care of the ball (only 13 turnovers in a 68 possession game). The Hoosiers shot 19-23 from the line, including two crucial makes by Rivers. Also, they shot 9-23 from behind the arc compared to 4-12 by Illinois. Getting to the line and forcing turnovers have become legitimate strengths of this team (IU ranks #61 in free throw rate and #48 in turnovers forced). what other individuals stood out?
- Devan Dumes scored 11 points on 4-8 from the field, including a couple of long three pointers. He's the classic hot hand.
Derek Elston was solid as usual offensively, with 5 points and 5 rebounds in 16 minutes. I think Crean still is uncomfortable with his defense, but he's a very efficient offensive player and rebounder. He did have 3 rebounds, unfortunately.
- Verdell Jones was only 5-20 from the field, but scored 22 points thanks to 10-12 from the line, and had 5 assists to 1 turnover.
- Bobby Capobianco continues to improve. He shot 2-2 from the field, 2-2 from the line, and finished with 6 points and 4 boards in 17 minutes.
Obviously, this game represents progress to some degree. After rough losses in the first two true road games of the season, IU has responded with a win at Penn State and a close loss at Illinois. Of course, progress with this team is never linear, so the Hoosiers managed to throw in a horrid loss to Iowa. Still, this team is better, and this gives us at least some hope in games against Northwestern and Iowa, at least. And now, IU readies for Purdue
Tuesday Thursday night. I've been terrible on schedule stuff lately). The Boilermakers will be overwhelming favorites (KenPom gives the Hoosiers only a 13 percent chance of victory). Purdue had a nice run at Assembly Hall in the mid 1990s, winning 3 of 4 from 1996 through 1999, but hasn't won at Assembly Hall in 11 years. More on that game later.