Zeller, Indiana put Illinois away, 84-71

Cody Zeller flashed a sheepish grin when asked if he was in Illinois center Meyers Leonard’s head. He made sure to stay away from anything that could be used as a sound byte or end up on a bulletin board.

“I knew he was in foul trouble,” Zeller said. “We wanted to attack him. But I wasn’t trying to (get in his head) or anything.”

But after he answered the question, the grin stayed.

Maybe because he knew he had, in fact, broken Leonard down mentally.

Leonard got the best of the matchup in the first half with 15 points, but Zeller turned it around after the break and finished with a game-high 22 points to lead Indiana to an uplifting 84-71 victory over Illinois in front of 17,389 at Assembly Hall. The victory gives the Hoosiers consecutive wins for the first time since a three-game winning streak ended January 8 and it puts them above .500 for the first time since their three-game losing streak in mid January. 

Zeller tried to shake off just about every question about the matchup with he and Leonard, and Indiana coach Tom Crean stressed that facing a center like Leonard requires team defense. However it was clear that on both ends, Zeller’s improvement in dealing with Leonard from the first half to the second half was critical.

It helped that Leonard got in foul trouble and fouled out with 3:09 to go, but Zeller was a big reason for that. Leonard had just one foul in the first half and Zeller kept taking the ball at him until Leonard had four and had to back off.

“He did a great job,” junior guard Jordan Hulls said. “In the second half, especially, not letting (Leonard) post deep. When we fed the ball to Cody in the post, he was really patient like he always is and trying to find people, but if not then he attacked the basket and got him into foul trouble. It was definitely huge for us.”

The game marked another step in the maturation process for the freshman phenom, who has had his ups and downs against the Big Ten’s more physical front lines. Thursday’s game showed him enjoying the rugged nature of the game perhaps more than any of his other matchups against bigs like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger and Michigan State’s Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne.

“I think he relishes it,” Indians coach Tom Crean said. “I really do. I think it gets him going. he’s a tough young man. He’s mentally tough. He’s physically tough. He’s getting stronger all the time. I think the more you come at him, the better it is. … Whatever your game plan is, if you’re gonna be physical with him, he’s gonna respond.”

The rest of the Hoosiers were just as physical. Indiana matched a season-high with made free throws, knocking down 35 of 42. Zeller was 12-for-14 from the line and sophomore guard Victor Oladipo was 10-for-12 for 18 points to go with three assists. Junior forward Christian Watford busted out of a slump with 18 points, five rebounds and two assists, and Hulls had 15 points and seven assists.

Leonard finished with 17 points for Illinois and didn’t score after the 18:22 mark in the second half. Junior guard D.J. Richardson led Illinois with 19 points thanks to five 3-pointers, but junior guard Brandon Paul was the only other Illinois player in double-digits with 13 points. Illinois shot 52 percent from the field and actually made five more field goals than the Hoosiers, but the free throw disparity was massive with the Hoosiers getting 23 more points at the line.

The games first 25 minutes featured 14 ties and numerous lead changes, and the Hoosiers saw an eight-point lead shrink to two with 10:58 to go. However, the Hoosiers went on a 16-6 run to take a 73-61 lead with 5:49 to go on a 3-pointer by Watford and held a double-digit lead the rest of the way.

AUDIO: Cody Zeller, Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford

AUDIO: Tom Crean


  1. Honestly, I feel guilty for ripping VJ the way I have in here. I hope he comes back from his injury, proves me wrong & carries IU to a couple of key victories & blazes his way thru the rest of his senior year, taking IU deep into the NCAA tourney.

  2. It’s no wonder big 10 teams struggle tournament time.No other conference allows such physical play.I watched Duke-NC and it didn’t even look like the same game.Somebody needs to put a stop to this awful kind of play.That being said,a tough ,gritty,very impressive game by IU.Only 10 turnovers,shot well,stayed tough and aggresive.Like the Purdue game,we showed a real toughness.

  3. Despite the foul discrepancy, I think IU got plenty of bad calls and no calls that should have been fouls (like Leonard shoving Zeller in the open court). Illannnoy simply hacked us to pieces. Many of their fouls were blatant fouls on the shooter, easy calls to make. I’m sure they will whine about it but they got what they deserved from the refs. Illannoy is a team full of cheap shot babies led by a whiny coach, whose leading scorer is the poster child of whiny babies.

    The play where Zeller legally put the hammer down on Leonard for the and-1 will be on my Top-5 list for the season. That was sweet. I didn’t think I could handle any more sweetness after beating PUke on the road, but this is almost as sweet.

  4. Geoff

    I saw another post make mention of the hook shot.
    Post said that Zeller should include this shot in his game.
    Today’s Big men don’t seem to use that shot, as much.

  5. Personally, ignore the fouling…over a season it all evens out (Geoff will tell you the greater the number of N, the likelier everything will balance to 50-50). Plus, absolutely nothing can be done…what constitutes a foul is just a part of how each ref sees the game.

    A coach, a good one will tell his players…”play well enough that the calls don’t matter”. Seriously, I really like some of the things that Geoff thinks about during a game. I was actually surprised when he gave so much attention to the refs 3-4 games ago it affected his analysis. The game is the game, with or without them.

    Good win today, and Illinois really wanted to win it. We just did not let them. That’s Hoosier basketball! It will be fun tomorrow around Chicago…I’ll walk up to my Illini friends and say ‘hard game’ and put out my hand (they know I don’t mean a word of it and it p.o’s them).

  6. Zeller made me smile. You think he got thrown around by the two big brothers on the Zeller family driveway??? He probably recalled much worse fouls from them playing H-O-R-S-E and remembered you don’t cry, you leave your imprint on the other guy.

  7. Tsao, that was my thought exactly. Zeller’s not going to be intimidated by the physical play of an opponent after growing up with two accomplished older brothers. I’ll bet that he took his lumps in those pick-up games against his brothers.

    Growing up in a neighborhood where all of my friends had brothers, I can tell you that in most cases, the youngest turned out to be the toughest of the bunch, both physically and mentally, because they grew up being “galvanized” by their older brothers.

  8. I went to the game and am so glad I did. Zeller is a great competitor! Never backs up an inch. I will say I do tend to agree with heinson. A good physical game is one thing but from what I saw (and I was up high) it was a very intentinonally physical game. Both teams played tough but the officiating imo was very incosistent. One no foul call would be a blatant push then a touch foul 30 foot from the rim. 17,000 people agree also. And Harvard before this errupts Im going to say yes He showed up and played a great game of basketball.

  9. hoosierfaninky-

    I like you. You’re a good sport. Glad you had a nice time at the game.

    How was your steak dinner? Porterhouse steak is a wonderful cut. I still prefer a flavorful thick New York strip, generously seasoned with coarse sea salt and fresh ground pepper, cooked just between medium and medium-rare..I love a nice dark char, a blackened crusty exterior, to distinctively compliment the tenderness of each mouth-watering bite …a baked potato and a nice cold salad wedge with a chunky blue cheese dressing and I’m good to go.

    Hulls impressed the hell out of me today. He looked very similar last year during a three game stretch he was able to run the point. Hulls hit some real momentum turning shots tonight. Very fortunate to have a kid with such a great feel and mind for the game. His intelligence, composure under pressure, and ability to seize key moments separates him from a lot of flashy guards that don’t possess Jordy’s unique combination of basketball instincts and advanced IQ for the game. I still say he’s one of the best in the Big 10 and his backcourt abilities shine through when he is in full control the leadership role. We once again learn through happenstance how the Hoosiers can run on all cylinders, have a balanced attack, when the true QB our Hurryin’ Hoosiers is given the reins.

  10. Great game! Two plays turned it in my mond, one was a scramble along the east sideline or a loose ball in the second half Watford dove for it got & called timeout. In the ensuing scrum Leonard got hit in the head and was complaining to the ref afterwards. Then THE play of the game where Cody got the AND ONE and caught Leonard with an elbowin the nose or the jaw! That turned the tide! Always great to beat Bruce Weber!

  11. I loved Cody’s game last night. CWat stepped up too. I have advocated the use of the hook shot for some time now. Done in rhythm, it allows the shooter a split second more to get the shot off vs. gathering themselves to “power up”. Recall, CWat got the ball in front of the hoop, tried to gather himself to power up only to have the shot blocked. If he’d had used a classic running or moving hook shot Leonard would not have the split sec to position to block the shot. And it is not just shot blocks it is the intimidation & altering of shots. I think the hook shot negates that somewhat. Just prior to the IU-IL game I saw clips of an old NBA All-Star game. There was Jabbar as a 40 yr old hitting that hook shot of his against younger, quicker more athletic players time & again. Why not try it? Watch that burly post player at UWV. His hook shot looks ugly but darn pretty when he scores time & again off of it.

  12. Remember how 4guards always claimed CTC couldn’t develop big men? Yep, Cody play just like that in high school.

    Of course he did.

    GREAT ball movement. Some of those easy baskets followed three passes in the blink of an eye.

    The team is SO much faster without…never mind.

  13. Incredible game from Zeller. IU is starting to look like a team that gets it. You can’t back down and you better be ready to dish out more than you take if you want to win in this conference.

    Zeller did not say a word but the look in his eyes as he finished and the occassional quick glance at Leonard said it all. Once Cody busted him in the face Leonard was officially done.

  14. I remember when this kind of game was a typical Big Ten game. The physical nature of it I think is just natural when you have two teams with big, strong, tough players. Everybody’s right–the only thing trying to muscle Zeller around will get you is muscled back harder. Nothing in Assembly Hall hurts as much as an elbow from Tyler or the kid down the street and getting planted on the concrete driveway.

    I will agree that the officiating was inconsistent in that it changed about 25 minutes in. They let a lot of things go in the first half, which led to hard fouls escalating in the second up to Cody’s message to Leonard. After that everything was a foul, because the refs felt like they had to ‘get control.’ A better approach would have been to call the foul on Leonard’s push on the first possession, enforce some calls inside early and never have to ‘get tight’ with the calls in the second half. That’s what fouls players out–letting them get used to playing the game one way, then start calling those plays as fouls later.

    Like everyone else, I take pleasure in every loss Illinois suffers after Weber’s whiny ‘Indiana’s gonna suck and I’m gonna love it’ comment a few years ago. They are the only Big Ten team I don’t cheer for in the tournament and in big regular-season games outside conference.

    Heinsohn, I don’t know where you get that Big Ten teams struggle in the tournament. If you look at all-time tournament wins, winning percentage,Final Four appearances, national titles and so on, the Big Ten is at or near the top in all of those and has been for many years.

  15. 19-6/7-6 with pUKe, ND, Buckeyes, scUM, PUke and IllinoiD in the wake. In crunch time JH sure is clever with the dribble in traffic setting up his shot. Lunardi says IU a #4 seed. What I am most impressed with is the bench strength Crean and staff have developed. Now is OSU and/or MSU a W on a neutral court?

  16. Guess Dustin doesn’t read this as his article still says we beat Purdue….even after 2 people told him about the mistake.

  17. Kurk: yeah, in the Illinois Student Newspaper, you get more of the same. The story frames the loss as a combination of ‘bad calls’ and ‘self inflicted wounds.’ Hardly a mention of Zeller’s second half transformation.

  18. MarkMe

    I have seen some of the classic ABA/NBA games on the NBA
    channel. Defense’s were more man to man, so they used to clear the court side for guys like Elgin Baylor,Connie Hawkins, Roger Brown and Dr.J. Elgin Bayor could shoot the runnibg or sweeping hook with either hand. He would take the ball off the dribble and elevate with the ball ready to shoot. He could not be defended without being fouled.

    Kareem,Artis Gilmore,McHale..Pacers Hilbert uses it and is pretty successful. Take the pass in at chest high and start the motion instead of trying to drop step, lower your body and get tied up or blocked.

  19. Hoosier+ etal – on Zeller adding a hook shot… Obviously anytime you can add something to your offensive repertoire it’s a good thing. Generally those things get worked on in practice and the offseason. There certainly isn’t anyone on IU’s current roster that s going to challenge Zeller’s shot in practice, so I’m not sure how effective that practice would be until next year when Perea and Jurkin are around. I’m sure he had to come up with some nifty ways to score in the driveway, but the age difference between he and his brothers is fairly wide, so who knows if he ever got a shot off in the post…

    If I had to guess I’d say this is the first time in his life that he’s gone up against comparable size and athleticism on a nightly basis. Against his brothers he was always overmatched because they were a few years more advanced, and once they were gone he was simply bigger and better than everyone else around. While he’s very good, he probably hasn’t had to be extremely creative to score. Just my thoughts…

  20. I’ve been hard on Hulls all year for his defense only but watching a game live you can clearly see he gives it 100% for almost 40 minutes a game. Maybe he’s stepped up since VJ has been gone or maybe It just took me attending a live game to see his true effort level on defense. It sounds silly but im serious. He really impressed me. My dad who’s a UK fan went to the game with me and I warned him this wasn’t going to be like watching the cats or the UL cards. He came away very impressed. He loved Assembly Hall!! This was my first Big game I’ve been to at the hall and I can honestly say haven been to see UL and UK several times theirs no comparison. If there’s a better home court crowd in the nation I would love to see it. Maybe Cameron indoor but considering the size I doubt the noise level reaches that of the halls. It was white noise for 40 minutes. We screamed the whole ride home. Great time. Im so glad we got a tough good team!!

  21. Where does the BIG TEN get some of these clowns they call officials. Leonard pushes Zeller in open court within no more than 5 feet of trail official. I do not think they can call that a flop. Then they reverse charge call on Leonard even though Elston may have had his heels on outside of line. Zeller did a great job of not letting Leonard get in his head, bur Big Z got in Leonards mouth in 2nd half.But what do you expect from a former Boiler, he had the best crybaby coach to work under.

  22. fans wanting Zeller to add to his scoring repertoire? He shoots ft’s so well, I think he could square up and pop 3’s, maybe not this year but I do believe he has the ability

  23. No steak clarion thanks for asking though. We forgot Bloomington was an hour ahead and you know how people over 50 tend to get about their “rest”. lol

  24. Larry (and I’m not being snarky), why? Why would we want our best rebounder beyond the arc? Remember Danny Ferry? Seven feet of shooting guard.

  25. as most of you already know I don’t think much of CTC’s coaching, the only improvment I see is the addition of a kid called Cody Zeller.

  26. Elmo-

    When Mike Davis was coaching, Zellers went to places like N.D. and UNC.

    With Crean at the helm, Zellers and Yogis are staying home to play at IU, even when the program is (was) losing 20 games a year.

    No matter how stubborn and entrenched you are, you can’t deny that part of being a good coach is being able to get the right players. Enough said.

  27. ^ It follows that Kelvin Sampson was a good coach because Eric Gordon changed his mind as soon as Sampson arrived in Bloomington.

    I’d like to see how good Crean’s recruiting is in a place like … Iowa, or New Mexico. Enough said.

  28. Whoa, hadn’t seen that nickname in a long while.

    Kelvin Sampson was a good coach. 496-271 career coaching record. Enough said.

  29. ^ It follows that Steve Alford is a good coach: 425–226 career coaching record (like Sampson). Furthermore Crean Tom 237–167 is closer to Mike Davis 222–135 in this respect. Enough said.

  30. That’s right. Alford is a good coach. So is Tom Crean, and so is Mike Davis. Of course, neither of them are Coach K or Roy Williams. But they are obviously doing something right.

    Records, especially ones developed over a longer period do actually indicate something, believe it or not. Enough said….or is it?

  31. ^ Crean is not a bad coach by a long shot either. In fact I’d be willing to say he’s a great coach if he could use Verdell to the team’s benefit. So far he has struggled to give VJ3 a goal that didn’t put the kid at a disadvantage. Only once this season (against Iowa) did Verdell’s minutes look justified. What to do with Verdell for the rest of the season is Crean’s biggest question mark because Verdell’s TO record (developed over a period of almost four years) clearly indicates nothing to be proud about unless you’re into the business of producing and selling pâtisserie products…

  32. Coaching at the college level involves a lot of different things – recruiting, game prep, in-game decisions and adjustments, practice organization and efficiency, player development, hiring the right assistants, manipulating the media without them even really knowing it, pandering to the fans, discipline, working with administration, etc. The higher the level the higher the pressure. Being a winning coach means you have to either be really good at a lot of those things or EXCEPTIONAL at a couple. With that being said:

    Sampson was also 2-time National Coach of the Year…

    I am not sold that Davis is an above average D1 coach. His recruiting was ok, although it was also effected by NBA early entry rules then. His first 3 years at IU he was coaching with Knights players. By the time his recruits were in effect the team was playing .500 basketball. He has fared well at UAB, but that is a really weak conference, and a lot of that success was bringing Robert Vaden with him, who was probably his best HS recruit ever. Now that Vaden is gone they aren’t doing so hot… 10-14 overall from a conference that doesn’t have a single ranked team.

    Alford is also a good coach, but I think the jury is really still out on whether or not he can coach at anything above the mid-major level. His B1G record in 8 years at Iowa was 61-67, that’s a pretty good sample size saying he’s an average high-major coach.

    If you want to do a fair comparison on Crean’s resume then eliminate the last 3 years… Or at the very least his first 2 years at IU. His winning percentage is then a much truer depiction of where he is a coach. None of the coaches that have been mentioned above have had to deal with a mess like he did when he came here.

    Now go down the list of coaches and think to yourself at which of these duties does each guy perform well? It’s hard to know without being a part of the program and having real first-hand knowledge… Not just hearsay and opinion from a former player who you share beers with, or your uncle who is a booster, or even if you are good friends with the Zeller’s. I have my hunches, and I’m sure most of you do too, but in the end it’s hard to go on anything other than results, with a sprinkle of the perspective and context of how those results were achieved.

  33. Amazing how the same old topics never end. Get over it.

    It’s the players that got the raw deals in all the turmoil and decimation.

    And we’re talking about squeaky clean Crean getting the job at IU because of the most frivolous investigation in NCAA history. Nobody was fired simply based on coaching/player development expertise.

    Bring back Bobby Knight! (Geoff, this post was full of sarcasm).

  34. I don’t equate good coaching with good recruitment you may or can still be a poor coach. I still don’t think he has a good grasp of the game,makes poor decisions late in games,poor or unnecessary substituions and poor preparation for games. My opinion and I’m still an I.U. fan.

  35. Yep, you sure do. The question is, do you want to come across as a knowledgeable, intelligent fan? If you do than you need to move on from being upset that your choice for coach didn’t get hired and accept that Tom Crean is doing a great job with this team. Find a single professional in the field of college basketball that has said anything other than glowing praise for what he has done. Go ahead, find one.

    Like or dislike whomever you wish but if you want your posts to be taken seriously then take note of what is actually occurring on the floor and move on from Steve Alford, or whomever, not being hired. In all likelihood CTC will be coaching here for the next 20 years. There is not one iota of evidence to suggest anything else will happen.

    Are you going to hang on to petty disappointment for the next 20 years?

  36. BTW, I do, if not equate, at least INCLUDE recruiting with coaching. Not even Dean Smith, John Wooden, Mike K, Jim Calhoun, Pitino, Beowhine, Coach Cal, or even the mighty RMK won games with weak players.

    Not a one of Bobby Knight’s championship teams was missing five star talent. Coach K, Dean Smith, and Wooden had the best high school talent in the country.

    It all begins with recruiting.

  37. Chet baby,I had no one as a choice for coach. I coached against Alford’s dad they were both horse’s a–. You know so little about basketball that I will not dicuss it any further with you, that should make you happy,you can go ahead and love the energizer bunny. Good day.

  38. Elmo, go back and re-read… I don’t equate good recruiting with good coaching either. I just acknowledge that it’s part of the equation. Most people wouldn’t equate working well with administration as good coaching either, but how many times do we scratch our heads when we see certain guys get fired. From the outside it’s looks like he’s doing an ok job, no scandal hit the news, but for some reason he was let go. It’s hard to be successful if you don’t have a job…

    Its like doing anything. Being a good salesman isn’t just about making a good presentation and closing a deal… If that’s all you can do you better be THE BEST at closing the sale. If you don’t get along with management, understand how to delegate prep work, drop the ball on following up with new customers as they transition to your product or service, understand and are diligent about prospecting, etc then you won’t have a job very long. Really good unemployed salespeople don’t make much in commission each month. It’s harder to get each successive job as well, because hirers start to wonder why, if your numbers are decent, the last 4 places have let you go…

    Being a good mother isn’t just being good at pushing a baby out of your hoo-ha…

    Being a good mechanic isn’t just understanding how motors work…

    Being a good husband isn’t just saying “I do…”

    Being a good minister isn’t just being able to recite meaningful sermons…

    Being a good President isn’t just about running a good campaign…

    AND being a good coach means you either have to do a lot of things – including all the recruiting, administrative, and public relations things – well, or you must be absolutely EXCEPTIONAL at a couple so your AD or university President won’t have the option to let you go.

  39. If by “fired up” you mean that you created a forum where a topic was discussed calmly and your short uninspired comments led to excellent and/or researched writing that ended in you being embarrassed by the rest of the posters… Then yes you are correct. Well done.

  40. Love you Geoff,but i’m quite calm,but I’ve read enough of your blogs and you amazing research to be convinced that you know nothing about basketball. I’ll keep needling you now and then so you can think of some more wise responses,until next time adios

  41. I haven’t gone back and looked but as memory recalls elmo hasn’t posted anything to indicate he knows any more about basketball than my late Aunt Sara (why can’t anyone be on time?).

    …also, everyone here seems calm BUT elmo.

  42. Thats o.k. Chet I coached and played at a higher level than you could ever handle but my experiences are real yours is just make believe. Don’t know about Aunt Sara but I bet she’s smarter than you. I’ve had a good time gouging you pro’s until we meet again good nite and God bless.

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