Indiana gets big win over Illinois playing slow and playing zone

WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana got revenge for its 83-80 overtime loss on New Year’s Eve with a 56-46 win over Illinois on Sunday in front of an announced crowd of 17,472 at Assembly Hall

The Hoosiers snapped a two-game skid to improve to 13-7 overall, 3-4 in the Big Ten. The Illini lost their sixth straight game to fall to 13-8, 2-6.

Down 29-28 in the second half, Indiana reeled off a 12-0 run to take a 40-29 advantage with 13 minutes to go. Illinois answered with a 10-2 run to cut it 42-39, but IU freshman forward Noah Vonleh hit a jumper at the top of the key to spark a 6-0 run. The Fighting Illini would cut the deficit to six points twice, but IU sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell hit six free throws in the last 1:06 to seal the victory.

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Ferrell scored just two points in the first half and missed both of his field goal attempts in the first half, but scored 15 in the second half to finish with 17. He was 4-for-7 from the field and 8-for-8 from the foul line, he had five assists against three turnovers and also had four rebounds and a steal. The Hoosiers 12-0 run was mostly his doing, as he scored on a driving layup, a jumper at the top of the key and a 3-pointer while also assisting on a 3-pointer by senior forward Will Sheehey.

Freshman guard Stanford Robinson had 10 points and five rebounds. Vonleh scored just four points, but they were all important and more importantly, he had 14 rebounds including 11 on the defensive end. Senior forward Will Sheehey scored just five points, but he had nine rebounds including seven on the defensive end.

Illinois junior guard Rayvonte Rice was the only Illinois player in double figures with 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting.

WHY DID IT HAPPEN: Indiana coach Tom Crean said that one of the biggest differences between the Hoosiers now and earlier in the season is that they have the ability to be more game-plan oriented on both sides of the ball because they’re better at processing how to play multiple defenses and to put offensive plays in effect quickly. Sunday’s game was perhaps the best example yet.

Crean didn’t like his matchups against Illinois in man-to-man, but in the first matchup, he felt that he had to play man-to-man because the Hoosiers weren’t ready to play zone for extensive periods. By Sunday, he felt a lot more confident in it, so he used it extensively and to outstanding results.

Rice was much more efficient in this game after scoring 29 points on 8-for-20 shooting in the first game, but the Illini would definitely have wanted him to take more shots because no one else was scoring. The Hoosiers kept his shooting at a relative minimum and effectively made everyone else useless. The Illini shot 18-for-54 from the field (33.3 percent), and everyone else not named Rayvonte Rice finished 11-for-43. Starters Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey were a combined 3-for-20 from the field. No one else scored in double figures and just two players other than Rice — center Nnanna Egwu and backup point guard Jaylon Tate — made more than one field goal in the game. Rice was 4-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc. The rest of the team was 1-for-16.

And when the Illini missed, they didn’t get the ball back. Indiana dominated the backboards, winning the rebound battle 42-28. The Hoosiers got 33 defensive rebounds to just four offensive boards by Illinois and prevented the Fighting Illini from scoring a single second-chance point. Though Vonleh found it difficult to get involved offensively because he was getting so much attention from the defense, he was a beat on the defensive glass and contributed to even more rebounds than he had by getting a hand on the ball and getting it in the air. Sheehey was also active with nine rebounds and guards Ferrell and Robinson combined for nine rebounds.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: This was exactly the sort of game Indiana needs to win to keep itself in the NCAA Tournament picture. Though the Fighting Illini are fading fast with six straight losses, they are still the sort of team the Hoosiers will be judged against come Selection Sunday, and after losing to them the first time in Champaign and also suffering the upset against Northwestern, they don’t have much more margin for error in terms of losing games that they are favored. They likely need to pull off an upset or two still against one of the Big Ten frontrunners — and although that picture is quite muddied at the moment, we’ll define that group as including Michigan, Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin — but taking care of business in these games is also an important step.

This victory also helps the Hoosiers from a mental standpoint because it proves to them they can win more than one way. As Ferrell pointed out in the post-game press conference, the Hoosiers always want to run and play fast and they are most comfortable with man-to-man defense. But this game proves that Indiana doesn’t have to run to win and when the situation calls for it, they can slow down, play zone and still get a victory when they need it.

WHO SAID WHAT: ASAP Sports is a fantastic invention. But at the moment, I can’t access the transcripts digitally, so here’s audio.

AUDIO: Tom Crean

AUDIO: Yogi Ferrell, Austin Etherington, Stanford Robinson



  1. No mention of Etherington. Is it my imagination, or is he the only IU player who wants to “run an offense”? Seems like he was conspicuous as the only one moving on offense.

  2. Speaking of; One of the quick huddles before a foul shot, camera showed Austin and Howard talking to the group. Did not appear to be a word from Yogi.

  3. Interesting that those have been mentioned recently on TV broadcasts as the vocal leaders, yet not given more attention. My guess is that Howard works his butt off in practice.

  4. Howard is now a rotation player, he has earned it! But Johnny Marlin has not. So give the minutes to Yogi, Stan and Evan.

Comments are closed.