Guard play lacking in loss at Illinois

There have been two common themes to Indiana wins this season.

One is a productive game from junior forward Juwan Morgan. The other is strong, composed guard play. On Wednesday at Illinois, the Hoosiers certainly got one, but not the other.

IU’s perimeter team struggled, at times, against the Illini’s pressure defense, while enduring a wild night of swings between good and bad moments. Indiana coach Archie Miller has lauded his backcourt for their contributions to the Hoosiers’ four Big Ten victories this month.

But Wednesday, in a game that got away at Illinois, there was much to be desired.

“Their pressure was up,” Miller said of Illinois. “We tried to keep it spaced as much as possible. I thought they played their ball screen defense a little bit different later in the game, which kept us a little bit stagnant. Without question, I thought our guards weren’t as good in the second half at handling it as much as we probably needed to.”

Entering the trip to Illinois, the Hoosiers had won each of their four games decided by five points or fewer. Of course, their guard play went a long way toward those outcomes.

Against the Illini, consistency was lacking.

There were some decent moments, including a couple early 3-pointers from Robert Johnson and some key assists from Devonte Green, who went on to have yet another herky jerky performance.

At the same time, Indiana didn’t get much from Al Durham and Josh Newkirk. Johnson was neutralized in the second half, playing the full 20 minutes while taking merely one shot from the field. Durham saw only 11 minutes, managing one point, with an assist, a turnover and a block.

Newkirk, meanwhile, logged only five minutes in the final period, committing three turnovers in that span. Between Green and Newkirk, Miller felt Green was the best fit for the second half, most importantly as a ball-handler more equipped to break down Illinois’ pressure.

“Especially early, he was the one guard on our team that was really getting other guys involved,” Miller said of Green, who posted a game-high five assists. “He was getting off screens, he was getting the ball to the paint and, by evidence of early on, he had some really good passes. I thought he gave us a better option at the time, and we kind of rode it out.”

Green, though, was all over the place in the final three minutes of regulation, scoring five points, but also committing two turnovers — his only turnovers of the game coming at the worst time.

The second of those errors, which spoiled a chance for IU to tie the game in the final second, left several members of Indiana’s bench with their heads in their hands.

Miller said after the game that, with eight seconds remaining and Indiana down two, Green had two options on the final play. One was Johnson on the wing, the other was Morgan down low.

Green looked to Morgan, but his fastball bounce pass caromed off Morgan’s shin and into Illini hands. It killed IU’s hope to force overtime, and left Green, too, with his head in his hands.

“Devonte had Rob off the left sideline, probably on the first dribble, probably with an advantage,” Miller said. “Then, Devonte made a really good look that Juwan was open, it’s just that the pass was really tough to handle. I think if he had caught it he may have knocked it in. It is what it is. One play didn’t define the game.”

No, Wednesday’s loss was defined by missed free throws, turnovers and a backcourt that didn’t get the job done.

3 comments

Comments are closed.