Indiana starts fast to bury Illini, snap three-game losing streak

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Indiana starts fast to bury Illini, snap three-game losing streak

They say that it's not how you start, it's how you finish. Well, Saturday in Bloomington, it was all about how Illinois and Indiana started.

The Hoosiers blitzed the Illini in the game's opening few minutes, sprinting out to a 15-0 lead and holding onto that big advantage for the majority of the remainder to grab a 96-80 win and snap a three-game losing streak.

The nightmarish start for Illinois saw it miss its first eight shots and turn the ball over a handful of times, a situation made markedly worse when star Malcolm Hill went to bench early with three fouls in the first five minutes.

Indiana kept pouring it on, too, growing that lead as large as 22 in the first half thanks to red-hot shooting. The Big Ten's top offensive team looked every bit of it, scoring 48 points in the first half and shooting 58.6 percent from the field over the first 20 minutes. Robert Johnson alone had 13 points on six made baskets. The Illini were quite the opposite, shooting just 29.2 percent in the opening period and turning the ball over seven times, which led to 15 points for the Hoosiers.

Illinois fared much better after halftime, at least on the offensive end, shooting 56.7 percent from the field over the final few minutes. The Illini, spurred by having Hill on the floor, made a few charges and whittled the Hoosiers' massive lead, which again reached 22 in the second half, down to 12 with more than 11 minutes still to play. But Indiana responded with a big James Blackmon Jr. triple, the first three of 10 straight for the Hoosiers, who again led by 22.

The Illini again chopped the big lead down, using a 13-2 burst to make it a nine-point game on Jalen Coleman-Lands' fifth 3-pointer of the game with under six minutes to play. But Illinois' shooting fell off a cliff from there, and Indiana capitalized. Thomas Bryant's 3 with about four minutes to go served as the dagger, making it a 14-point lead, but the Illini were more to blame, going more than four minutes without a basket after getting the deficit to single digits.

Defense cost Illinois in this one, as Indiana had no trouble racking up some big offensive numbers, scoring 90-plus points for the sixth time this season and shooting a stellar 59.2 percent on the afternoon. The Hoosiers ended up with 20 points off nine Illini turnovers and were tremendously efficient on offense, assisting on 22 of their 29 made baskets and hitting 13 3-pointers on the game.

Hill and Coleman-Lands each finished with 21 points for the Illini, Coleman-Lands splashing home five triples and Hill getting 11 from the free-throw line. Maverick Morgan was a point off his season-best with 18.

Blackmon had a game-high 25 points with five made 3s for Indiana, Bryant added 20, Johnson finished with 18 and OG Anunoby had 12.

Indiana's win snapped a three-game losing streak that had the Hoosiers looking anything but a contender. Indiana sits at 11-5 on the season and 1-2 in Big Ten play with a trip to Maryland coming Tuesday.

Illinois dropped to 11-5 with the loss, 1-2 in the Big Ten. Next up for John Groce's team is a home game against Michigan on Wednesday.

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson gets some love from NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson gets some love from NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr.

Is Northwestern becoming QB U?

Trevor Siemian and Mike Kafka have already been drafted this decade, and Clayton Thorson — the team's current signal-caller — could be next.

ESPN's noted NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. ranked Thorson as one of his top five underclassman quarterbacks ahead of the 2018 draft.

Now that doesn't mean much right now. Kiper himself dubbed his position-by-position rankings as "way too early." Thorson's stock could soar or fall depending on what happens next season. And Thorson will still have one season of NCAA eligibility remaining after the upcoming 2017 campaign, meaning he might not even be in the 2018 NFL Draft.

But it's solid praise for a quarterback who looked much better in his second season as the Wildcats' starter than he did as a redshirt freshman the year prior.

As a redshirt sophomore, Thorson completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 3,182 yards and 22 touchdowns (fourth in the Big Ten in both of those categories) compared to nine interceptions. Thorson also rushed in for five touchdowns on the ground.

His quarterback rating skied from 95.9 as a freshman to 125.9 as a sophomore.

Now, there's little telling where Kiper might rank Thorson among all quarterbacks for the 2018 draft. He ranked five seniors and five underclassmen, with Thorson ranked fifth among underclassmen, behind Southern California's Sam Darnold, Wyoming's Josh Allen, UCLA's Josh Rosen and Louisville's Lamar Jackson, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

But certainly the Northwestern quarterback has captured the attention of draft evaluators and could follow Siemian and Kafka as recent Wildcats signal-callers to hear their name during the draft.

Lovie Smith announces dismissals for three arrested, suspended Illini football players

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Lovie Smith announces dismissals for three arrested, suspended Illini football players

The three Illinois football players suspended after being arrested earlier this month have been dismissed from the team, head coach Lovie Smith announced Wednesday.

Offensive lineman Darta Lee, tight end Zarrian Holcombe and offensive lineman HoJo Watkins Jr. were all indefinitely suspended and now are no longer with the program.

According to details from the Champaign News-Gazette, the three players were charged with residential burglary and aggravated robbery after what they claimed was a prank on a fellow dorm resident.

After the arrests on May 10, Smith announced Lee and Holcombe had previously been suspended and that a new suspension was put in place for Watkins.

"These allegations, if true, fail to live up to the standards we expect of our student-athletes," Smith said, his statement published by the Champaign News-Gazette. "We continue to gather information and will take appropriate steps based upon what we learn."

Lee and Holcombe were freshmen last season. Lee played in six games last season, starting two. Holcombe played in seven games.

Watkins was set to play in his freshman season this fall after enrolling early and working out with the team this spring.