IU take-aways: Illinois 67, Indiana 66

Effort and energy make all the difference.

The result was so close at Illinois, it was hard for the Hoosiers to be on the wrong end of it.

A play here or there — or maybe a whistle — and Indiana’s NCAA tournament resume would be essentially complete.

But when it was all said and done, the way the Hoosiers attacked the game — winning rebounds, mostly taking care of the ball, and hitting some key shots — left more of an impression than the score.

Since a debacle at Michigan, IU’s last four games have been tied together by one characteristic. They have either been on top late or in it. And that’s because there has been an urgency about the Hoosiers’ play.

“We’re not good enough to go and just knock somebody on their back in the first 10 minutes of a road game and find a way,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “But we are good enough that if we play hard for long stretches, to hang around and find a way to get one, which is what we have done in three of our last four road games.”

It may sound like a simple thing, but it’s a development. At times, Miller has had to question his team’s energy level and confidence. Buy-in was something that needed to manifest itself more fully, particularly on the defensive end.

This Big Ten season has been a grind, and Miller called the next two games the “last gasp of air” in the regular season, before the Hoosiers take aim at some postseason goals. But if they continue to play this way, with some purpose, the program has a chance to take a step forward and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016.

Some shots are going down.

On the heels of a 25.4-percent shooting day at Purdue, it’s hard to look at a 40.7-percent outing at Illinois and say the Hoosiers have hit a shooting stride.

But in key ways, IU has shown progress. First off, the Hoosiers hit 8-of-16 from 3-point range at Illinois. On the year, IU is connecting on 32.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Secondly, it’s about who is hitting those shots. Redshirt freshman Jerome Hunter’s back-to-back 3s in the second half at Illinois, as well as Al Durham’s 3 to get IU to within two points late, both fit into larger trends.

Hunter started the year 3-of-9 from 3 in three games. He went 1-of-19 in his next 13 contests. But he’s rebounded to 13-of-29 (44.8 percent) in his last 11 outings.

Durham is much the same. He was a scorching hot 9-of-17 in his first four games beyond the arc, dipping to just 10-of-38 (26.3 percent) in his next 14 contests. The junior is now 12-of-30 (40 percent) in his last 11 games.

Combined with the any-given-night nature of Devonte Green, the Hoosiers are starting to show they have some shooters. It’s just about whether they run their offense well enough to set up good shots, preventing the prolonged droughts that have plagued uglier losses.

“People want to talk a lot about shooting and our offense. We didn’t execute,” Miller said. “And Purdue had a lot to do with it with their pressure. (Sunday), we executed better and I thought we got some better play out of guys and we were able to score a little bit better.”

Green is the real wild card. Overall, he has followed much the same track as Durham and Hunter. He’s hit 23-of-55 (41.8 percent) from 3-point range in his last eight games, following a 16-of-61 (26.2) stretch in 13 contests.

Green hit two 3s to open the Illinois game, only to go 1-of-9 from the floor the rest of the way. Consistency is still something he’s searching for.

It all comes down to this.

The clanks at Purdue were frustrating.

The non-calls at the end of a one-point loss to Illinois were perplexing.

While two defeats on the road hurt, they weren’t unexpected. IU has just two wins outside of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall this Big Ten season. But if they defend home court, as they have all season, the Hoosiers can put the finishing touches on a compelling tournament resume.

According to both analytics and public perception, the Big Ten is strong and could merit a whole bunch of seeds on Selection Sunday. Only four of the conference’s 14 teams are outside of the top 50 in the NET rankings. Eight of those squads are ranked in the Associated Press top 25.

IU may be one of those four outside of the NET top 50 (54) but it boasts wins over Michigan State (7), Ohio State (16), Penn State (26), Iowa (29), and Minnesota (46), along with one-point losses to Maryland (15) and Illinois (36).

Minnesota is a must-win, again, because it would count as a “bad” loss if the Hoosiers suffered it. The Gophers are outside of the NET’s top 30, making Wednesday a Quad 2 contest. IU is currently 2-2 in Quad 2 matchups.

The Badgers come in hot, as well, winners of seven out of their last eight games. But in Quad 1 contests, the Hoosiers are a respectable 6-9. On Saturday, the current No. 30 team in NET offers IU a chance to improve its standing.

Not to mention, in the Associated Press poll, Wisconsin sits at No. 24, which gives IU a shot at a sixth win over a top 25 team. All of the current five, including No. 7 Florida State in the non-conference, have come at home.

Missing out on a Quad 1 win on the road at Illinois stings, but it was far from fatal. Take care of business at Assembly Hall — a place where the Hoosiers are 14-3 this season — and the selection committee should have a hard time turning away the cream and crimson.

What’s next?

Minnesota, 7 p.m. Wednesday, at Assembly Hall

The Gophers (13-15) have lost seven of their last nine games, but they aren’t to be taken lightly. Their last two defeats have come by a combined three points: 74-73 to Maryland, and 71-69 to Wisconsin.

As was the case the first time, IU’s defensive challenge will be three-pronged. First, there is Daniel Oturu on the inside. Then there is Marcus Carr, one of the better guards in the conference. Finally, Gabe Kalscheur is capable of getting hot from 3-point distance.

Last time around, IU succeeded on those fronts. Oturu was 5-of-15 from the floor. Carr was limited to 3-of-9 shooting, and Kalscheur was 1-of-11. The question is whether the Hoosiers can repeat that performance defensively, or whether the Gophers are bound to shoot better in Game 2.