Hoosiers hold off Illini, 78-68

The rhythms of their seasons have shifted from good to bad, hot and cold and so many points in between.

But players can grow from nights like these. At least, that’s Archie Miller’s hope for Al Durham, Justin Smith and Josh Newkirk.

The trio of Indiana reserves keyed a big night from the Hoosier bench, while helping IU hold off Illinois 78-68 on Wednesday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Durham, Smith and Newkirk combined for 38 points — many of them coming in moments when Indiana (15-12, 8-7) badly needed a boost against the sticky pressure Illinois (12-15, 2-12) applied all night.

In the cases of Durham and Smith, both freshmen, fluctuations were to be expected. Each player spent earlier segments of this season featured in IU’s starting lineup before settling into reserve roles down the stretch.

In Newkirk’s case, a season of struggles finally caught up to the point guard earlier this month. Wednesday, however, was one of his more composed performances of the year, and in teaming with the youngsters around him, he helped Indiana avoid a repeat of an earlier collapse last month against the Illini.

“Moments like tonight, a hard-fought win where guys made winning plays, those stick with you,” said Miller, IU’s first-year coach. “You learn how to win games that way.”

Although Indiana held the lead across the final 30 minutes of regulation, this victory was hardly sealed until the waning moments.

The Hoosiers knew from their first meeting with the Illini that they were in store for a night of in-your-face defense.

Illinois stayed true to form.

For the second time in as many games against the Illini, IU committed 18 turnovers. Of those errors, 10 came from starters Robert Johnson (six) and Devonte Green.

If not for the valuable contributions of those behind them, this night may have ended differently — or maybe similarly to the Jan. 24 matchup in Champaign, where the Hoosiers’ sloppiness, both in the halfcourt and at the free throw line, caught up with them.

This time, Indiana survived.

“For us tonight, to be able to battle through it, I thought we had a lot of guys step up,” Miller said. “Give our bench credit. Josh, Al and Justin, in particular, did a fantastic job of making big plays.”

Durham and Smith stabilized a rocky start for the Hoosiers, combining for 13 of the team’s first 19 points.

It fed an early 14-0 run for Indiana, which saw an offensively-challenged Illinois team stumble through six minutes without a basket.

“Our coaches just always tell us to be ready,” Smith said “When our number was called, we were able to get in the game and make something happen, just get something going.”

On the other side, Illinois’ best offense was produced by its defense. Turnovers led to breaks toward the other end and a total of 15 points off Hoosier errors.

After IU took a 35-25 lead into halftime, Illinois brought the energy to start the second half and made seven consecutive shots to get within 51-49 approaching the second media timeout.

That, coupled with five Indiana turnovers in the first six minutes of the period, helped the Illini narrow their deficit.

Indiana’s errors arose from a combination of factors — frenetic Illinois defense that led to high-risk passes, along with a few instances where IU simply wasn’t in the position it needed to make catches.

“Their style, you don’t see it very often,” Miller said. “It’s a very disruptive half-court, man-to-man — literally four feet above their man. You can’t make a pass. When you can’t make a pass, you’ve got to have guys that can put it down, make some plays for us. I thought we had some good possessions. I thought we did some good things, but I thought we had some sloppy turnovers.

After Illinois got within two points at the 12:26 mark, Durham and Smith answered with four quick points to key an 8-2 Hoosier run that created the separation IU needed.

Juwan Morgan, meanwhile, provided his usual steady play and finished with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. He also added a career-high five blocks.

And also unlike the previous meeting with Illinois, when IU shot 55 percent at the free throw line, the Hoosiers connected on 20 of their 29 attempts Wednesday in a game that saw a combined 47 fouls.

“Both games kind of played out a little bit the same way,” Miller said, “except I thought we were better on the glass tonight and we made our free throws.”

And, perhaps most importantly, the Hoosiers received the contributions from reserves, who seemed due for big nights.

“It wasn’t anything out of the norm,” Durham said, referring to his own approach. “It’s what we always do. It was normal tonight.”

16 comments

  1. Improved shooting, both from the field and from the free throw line, was the reason IU won this game. That and the fact that Illinois is also a terrible free throw shooting team. For the first few minutes of the second half, I thought Illinois’ strategy was to purposely foul IU so that they would get them in the bonus as fast as possible and then watch them miss free throws. Could not blame Illinois if that was their intension, because IU has been so terrible shooting free throws all season. It has been suggested that Illinois’ tight and aggressive man-to-man defense and ball pressure contributed to IU’s 18 turnovers last night. But at this point in the season, that should not have been such a problem. What I saw were too many instances where IU players stopped moving their feet, stood and waited for the pass, which got stolen and lead to an easy layup for Illinois. I also thought our guards could have done a better job of using Illinois aggressive ball pressure to draw fouls. But if you don’t have confidence in your free throw shooting, you may choose not to attempt to draw a foul and instead try to make a spectacular pass. So if IU’s guards can develop some confidence in there free throw shooting through the remainder of the season, they should be able to draw more fouls, reduce turnovers, and produce more outcomes like we witnessed last night.

  2. Morgan showed why he is such a stud last night. He only scored 14 points, but he was by far the best player on the court last night. He demonstrated his leadership by making steals, making assists, rebounding, blocking shots and drawing fouls. Archie should save the game tape from last night and show it to all incoming freshman for years to come. They should be made to study Morgan’s contributions in last night’s game so that they will appreciate that being the best player on the court is not just about scoring a lot of points. Morgan was outstanding!

  3. So, Indiana University has the largest student section in the country. And all the empty seats at Assembly Hall are due to them. All of them.

    Well done students. You are going to lose those seats. They will be allocated to those willing to pay retail for them and they’ll increase revenue. Indiana University is probably the only major program remaining in the entire country who leaves money on the table so that a large portion of students can attend games.

    This team is going to be amazing in the upcoming years and less of you will get to see them play, too. Well done, you millenial knuckleheads.

  4. You know, I haven’t enjoyed a season of hoops as much as this one in a long time. That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been some extremely painful moments. But it makes what I am seeing now just that much sweeter. The younger guys are getting better. They’re getting more confident. They’re more bought in. Newkirk, RJ & Hartman have 3 regular season games left. We’re getting from them exactly what we know about them. The difference has been our future stepping up.

    Three games left. Two road games and one at home vs OSU. It won’t be easy, but we can win out if we continue to play defense and our young guys keep this up. If you would have told me after the Ft Wayne game that this team would be in line to possibly win 18 games in the regular season, I would have cleaned out your crack pipe for you.

    I love this season. The growth and foundation being created is very encouraging.

    1. ^^^You betcha. 3-0? I think they could pull if off, DD. It would be epic. Morgan is playing like an All-American. More importantly, there is defense and team basketball. I hope Morgan gets a shot at the biggest stages in March.

      Would love nothing more than to see this team stun all of those who had written them off. Would love the OSU game to come down to a possible NCAA bid. Win two on the road …and we are right there.

  5. Don’t be so hard on them, DD. They have been taught to be narcissists. They stare at their own Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. pages for most of the night. It is as infectious as the wasting of time on blogs.
    Everyone is now a photography expert…an editorial writer…a world traveler … an armchair anything….all in a race to sell themselves as more spectacular in life than the the next self-promoter. Who’s got time to admire someone else? Who’s got time to have a favorite team? Who’s got time to have heroes? I am my own hero! I am Lord of the Tweet Jungle!
    Need more evidence? Do we get to be on LiveChat’s anymore? Nope. We must take our daily medicine and witness Price and Miller roll enough tweets outs during a game to fill the red carpet runway for the Academy Twitter Awards (500 of their own mug shots included).

    You didn’t attend school during these narcissistic times….Nor did you face the onslaught of multiple cyber temptations to build your own billboard at every corner of the social media world to promote “me”…and “I”….and “mine.” The times are changing….Our only god is the garage hermit Zuckerzit who brought this wonderful world of self-promotion now turning all young minds into narcissistic jello.

  6. Off-topic….but can somebody tell me how Rachel Nichols gets so many gigs on ESPN? She is absolutely terrible. I can’t watch her. Is there any legit talent working for ESPN?
    Must be very discouraging to those who actually have some talent being denied because they don’t have the same connections to “famous” people.

  7. We’ve won 8 Big Ten games! That was my early season highest expectation. For reference, we won only 7 last year w/ 3 “pros” on the squad. I told everyone who would listen we’d win as many games this year as last. & we actually have a shot.

    Why? We all know why. We have the real deal on the sideline again.

    NOBODY wants this team in their Big Ten bracket.

    1. You best let Podunker explain how “painful” it is to watch competent coaching …and a team giving full effort on defense.

      I don’t need predictions. Though I’m pretty sure I’ve been saying since the beginning to not count this team out.
      I knew we had a charlatan for a “coach” the last nine years and that just about any other D-1 name could be an upgrade. I like Archie…He’s doing a fine job. But this ain’t the stuff of miracles…or pure genius. This is called ridding your program of somebody that was not a teacher of the game.

  8. I love the coaching and I love Archie Miller. Some of you may recall that I predicted that Archie would be IU’s coach weeks before it was announced. It’s the bad losses that are so painful (like losing to ISU, Ft. Wayne, and the first game against Illinois). It’s the stupid, stupid turnovers made by senior guards that is so painful to watch. It’s the terrible free throw shooting that is painful. And it’s the missed layups and shots at the rim that are painful. Getting beat by a clearly superior team is not painful, but watching IU players shoot themselves in the foot as often as this year’s IU roster has is very painful. And it’s even more painful because I see how hard they’re working and how hard they play defense. Maybe I’m just a “results oriented” guy, but I hope I always find IU losing to be painful. It takes time to recognize and appreciate the effectiveness of a process. I’m confident that Archie is installing the right processes. But it will continue to be painful for me to watch IU lose until that process produces the desired results.

    1. We currently rank 3rd in the Big Ten in turnover margin… @ +1.9 per game (we cause two more turnovers than we commit).

      Last year turnover margin…? It’s Twenty-turnover Tommy…You guessed it.
      Last place …@ -3.9 per game( we turned the ball over almost 4 times more per game than the opposition).

      That’s a near +6 improvement in turnover margin(3.9 to +1.9) …..from last season. In one season we’ve gone from last place to 3rd place in turnover margin. So, so…painful. Lol.

  9. Copied from another thread:
    Season: Record: High Ranking
    2012: 27 – 9 7th
    2013: 29 – 7 1st Big Ten Champions
    2015: 20 – 14 22nd
    2016: 27 – 8 14th Big Ten Champions
    How soon we forget!
    Winning is fun. Losing is painful. Those seasons were fun. The others, like this one, were painful.
    Here’s to having a lot more fun in the seasons to come.

    And if you tell me that watching Watford hit that 3-point shot to beat Kentucky in 2011, or watching the ball roll off the rim in the last second of that game at Michigan, wasn’t the most fun you’d had watching IU basketball in about five years, there’s something wrong with you.

  10. If you watched IU vs Syracuse @ Sweet 16 and thought it was fun, there’s more wrong with you.

    If you watched us throw away a Sweet 16 game against Wichita State…and found this ending to the game fun…….there’s something very wrong with you.
    Don’t get me wrong…It wasn’t fun…but it was entertainment because it was almost painfully funny(especially to anyone in the Establishment loving the fact we were hung with that dude as a so-called coach).

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