4 things we learned from IU’s win at Illinois

1. Indiana attacked the rim, and was rewarded for the effort

Archie Miller had seen enough.

Thursday’s first half was not quite seven minutes old when Juwan Morgan ended a directionless possession with a 3-point prayer from the left wing, the last thing Miller wanted with his team trailing by four.

Morgan’s shot was Indiana’s sixth 3-point attempt of the night — and the Hoosiers’ sixth miss — causing Miller to throw his fist into the air in a fit of frustration as the ball bounced off the rim. Miller’s irritation was understandable, especially after he watched with incredulity as Devonte Green spoiled an easy two-on-one with an ill-advised 3-point pull-up moments earlier.

So Miller, peeved and put off by the decisions unfolding in front of him, stalked down the sideline and took a knee in front of his bench, issuing a directive for the final 27 minutes of play.

“We’re taking too many 3s!” Miller said. “Take advantage of the rim. Drive it! Drive it!”

The Hoosiers responded to the their coach’s command, attacking off the dribble and finding the holes inside Illinois’ defense en route to their runaway 92-74 victory.

IU finished with 52 points in the paint, the most for the program since the Hoosiers posted 66 in a triple overtime win over Penn State on Feb. 1, 2017.

“It boils down to the guards being able to pressure release on the perimeter,” Morgan said. “And at the same time, the bigs such as myself, Justin (Smith), De’Ron (Davis) just finding open gaps in the paint. I think they were trying to trap sometimes, even in the zone. Just finding a man and getting to the body. De’Ron had some great passes in there. All the guards did.”

As much as Illinois prides itself on disrupting opposing offenses and forcing turnovers, there are clear rewards for teams that keep their composure. The Illini are among the nation’s worst at defending inside the arc, allowing a 53.9 percent success rate on 2-point field goals.

That was a point of emphasis entering Thursday’s tilt, and while it took time to settle in, the Hoosiers eventually got the movement and the looks they wanted.

“With the way that their defense is set up, with the overplaying and all the pressure, you’ve got to put the ball on the floor,” Miller said. “I thought our spacing was pretty good and I thought our guys did a decent job of being able to get all the way to the basket. The second part of that was, De’Ron and Juwan also did a good job establishing themselves with some post-ups and some easy ones in the first half as well. Transition opportunities off our defense created some more layups. But it was more along the lines of how you have to attack them. I thought we took way too many 3s early in the game, and I thought we did a much better job at the end of the half and in the second half not taking as many 3s quick.”

2. Few teams have fared so well against Illinois’ pressure.

Archie Miller is being honest with you.

Even he didn’t expect his team to look so composed while dealing with Illinois’ aggressive style.

That, in large part, is due to the simple fact that very few teams are able to maintain poise during extended stretches against the Illini. They may not have many wins, but the Illini often succeed in muddying games and forcing teams out of rhythm. They foul on nearly every possession, banging bodies on hedges and getting handsy in one-on-one scenarios.

Yet, Indiana didn’t fall into any of the traps laid for them. IU’s seven turnovers were the fewest errors forced by Illinois in a season where Illini opponents are averaging 16.4 turnovers per game.

Altogether, Indiana has steadied itself offensively in recent weeks, a credit to Rob Phinisee’s reemergence as the Hoosiers’ point guard.

During IU’s current three-game winning streak, the Hoosiers have committed an average of 9.3 turnovers per game.

“I felt like the pressure, they were denying the wings, so that really opened up a lot of things in the paint,” Phinisee said. “I got downhill.”

3. It’s likely that the next few games will go as IU’s junior class goes.

De’Ron Davis and Devonte Green once again provided the Hoosiers with a jolt off the bench.

Davis, who did not practice last week while dealing with an illness, looked like himself again at Illinois, a 6-foot-10 bully in the post. He finished with nine points and three assists in nine minutes, and since the start of February, Davis is averaging 7.4 points and shooting a team-best 56.8 percent from the field.

Green, the most maddening player on the roster, has calmed his game during the past week while operating as the best version of himself. He as good of an option as Indiana has from beyond the arc, and he’s made three 3-pointers in each of the past two games. Green’s shot selection is still something that tends to drive his coach — and others — crazy. But he’s a combined 6-for-10 from the perimeter during the past week, giving Indiana a crucial shooting punch.

4. Indiana remains in the NCAA Tournament discussion.

With the win at Illinois, the Hoosiers can continue to make their case for an at-large bid to the big dance.

Beating the Illini doesn’t dramatically reshape IU’s postseason resume. In fact, it hardly changes it at all.

But, of course, it was a must-win game, the kind of contest that NCAA Tournament aspirants should be able to claim. It also gives IU its third true road win of the season and its second Quadrant 2 win, an area where the Hoosiers are merely 2-5 on the year.

Although Sunday’s matchup with Rutgers will register as a Quadrant 3 game, the Hoosiers could have a few opportunities for additional Quad 1 victories at the Big Ten Tournament.

If IU beats Rutgers, the Hoosiers will likely lock themselves into the No. 9 seed with a possible matchup against Minnesota or Ohio State on the table in the opening round.

Both Minnesota and Ohio State would provide Quadrant 2 opportunities, though it’s worth keeping in mind that, like Indiana (No. 50), the Buckeyes (No. 51) and Gophers (No. 55) are hovering around Quad 1 territory.