John Groce said after yesterday’s Illinois game, “I’m concerned about our start.”

Indiana (11-5, 1-2) began the game with a discombobulating 15-0 run and never looked back on their defeat of Illinois (11-5, 1-2) by a score of 96-80.

Illinois was out-hustled today from the tip, and it showed up on the scoreboard.

Illinois didn’t manage to score a point until Jalen Coleman-Lands hit a pair of free throws over 6 minutes into the game, and Illinois’ first field goal did not come until the 13:23 mark of the first half where Aaron Jordan hit a 3 pointer. When you start the game 0-8 with three turnovers, it only makes sense for the guy who makes the first bucket to score his first points since November.

Malcolm Hill got himself into way too much trouble early, picking up 3 personal fouls in less than 4 minutes to start the game, limiting his first half minutes to six. This was one of the reasons Illinois’ offense struggled mightily in the first half, shooting only 29% from the field in the first 20 minutes.

The game consisted of a series of runs, but when Illinois looked like it was making serious attempts to chip into the lead, Indiana would surge back and regain the dominance they carried throughout the game.

In the second half, Illinois played much-improved basketball on the offensive end, but the deficit they had gotten themselves into proved to be too much to climb out of. Despite being down by 22 points, Illinois managed to cut the lead to 9 with 5:13 left in the game. It was inevitable that Indiana would quickly silence the Illinois run, as a couple of Thomas Bryant buckets effectively ended Illinois’ bid at a comeback, and finally ending Indiana’s losing streak of three games.

Let’s get into player notes:

Malcolm Hill: When your best player commits 3 fouls in the first 4 minutes, that makes it hard for your team to create offense. Because Malcolm played so little in the first half, he didn’t hit his first field goal until 17 left in the first half. He still managed to put up 21 points and has at least 20 points in four straight games. Malcolm is going to need to do a better job of producing in the first half so his team isn’t playing from behind for the entire game.

Mike Thorne Jr.: People might start calling for Maverick Morgan to start in his place after today. 0-1 shooting, a turnover, only 2 points and 4 rebounds. Thorne can prove to be a physically large, yet ineffective piece for Illinois’ offense on the court at times. His offensive game is limited, and he struggles to move defensively despite having a size advantage.

Maverick Morgan: A bright spot for the orange and blue offensively. 18 points on 6/9 shooting, Mav has really stepped up his offensive game since the beginning of the season. With only two rebounds in 22 minutes, he’s going to have to boost his physicality on the glass.

Jalen Coleman-Lands: Tied with Malcolm for 21 game-high points. It was good to see JCL find some success shooting, particularly from beyond the arc (5/8). Illinois is going to need JCL to hit some big 3’s down the stretch in close games.

Tracy Abrams: Continuing to regress to the mean, and hard. Two points, one field goal, nothing from 3 point range. He can still be an effective point guard as far as passing and assisting but will have to drive and try and get some points or contact in the paint if the jump shots won’t fall.

Te’jon Lucas: Had the highest +/- for Illinois today (+8). 6 points, 4 assists, 2 turnovers and a steal. I rest my case.

Observations:

Indiana was supposed to win this game, they NEEDED to win this game, and they did. I commend Tom Crean and Indiana for coming out and putting together an impressive wire-to-wire win. Indiana’s fans have been uneasy with their team’s play this season, and Hoosier fans needed their nerves to be calmed a little bit. Indiana did just that.

Stops were few and far between. If you give up 96 points in a Big Ten game, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you’re probably going to lose. Illinois managed to go on multiple runs, slicing into the lead multiple times throughout the game, but Illinois failed on their perimeter defense, allowing open shot after open shot.

Looking for a positive statistic? Illinois scored on 68.6% of their second half possessions, equating 1.457 points per possession after only .829 points per possession in the first 20 minutes (from @IlliniStats).

Groce’s lineup down the stretch was the most anti-John Groce thing ever, and I loved it. Kipper Nichols had played five minutes the entire season going into the Indiana game. He played 11 minutes today, including the last few minutes down the stretch, where Illinois cut the lead to 9 before eventually surrendering it back up to 16. Same thing with Te’jon, a very limited minute guy, getting the crunch time minutes at the end. Groce stuck with Te’jon and let him play over Tracy or Jaylon. For the amount of B.S. I give to JG, I love his decision to trust these guys and keep them in the game down the stretch.

In the end, this 1-2 conference start looks a lot worse than it actually is because of the margins Illinois has lost by. A 1-2 start is the start most people predicted, the same people who predicted Illinois could make the dance in March.

The start of games, the defense, the hustle: It all has to improve. Illinois isn’t out of this thing, but they’re going to need to do some convincing.

Illinois (11-5, 1-2) hosts Michigan (11-5, 1-2) this Wednesday at the State Farm Center in Champaign.

 

 

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