Indiana knocks Illinois out of Big Ten tourney

Indiana knocks Illinois out of Big Ten tourney
March 15, 2013, 7:45 pm
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Jack McCarthy

There was no second upset in the cards for Illinois Friday.

Five weeks after stunning then-No. 1 Indiana in a Big Ten regular season clash in Bloomington, the Hoosiers claimed payback as they thumped the Illini, 80-64 in Big Ten quarterfinal play at the United Center.

"We learned from that game," Indiana senior Christian Watford said. "We let that [first] one get away. We knew what they do and we kept grinding it out."

On Feb. 7 Illinois rallied from a 10-point deficit to upend Indiana, 74-72. In Friday's quarterfinals, Illinois couldn't rev up any offense early and dug a hole too deep to climb out of.

"I think it was a tale of two halves," Illini coach John Groce said. "Our defense was really, really good in the first half ... in the second half it flipped. I thought our offense was really good and defensively we weren't able to stop them.

"When you're playing Indiana you've got to be good in both halves."

Cody Zeller, the Hoosier's  7-foot sophomore center, did the most damage with a game-high 24 points plus nine rebounds as No. 3-ranked Indiana (27-5) earned a semifinal date with Wisconsin.

But he wasn't the lone weapon.

Four other Hoosiers scored in double figures, including 15 points from Watford, 12 apiece from Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell and Victor Oladipo. Will Sheehy added 11. Oladipo also had a game-high 11 rebounds.

Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams each had 16 points as the eighth-seeded Illini shot just 20-for-58 (34.5 percent) from the field. Joe Bertrand added 10 points.

"They were really locked on our shooters, I mean heavy," Groce said. "It took some time for us to get adjusted. The second part was that we missed five layups in what we call the own box around the rim in the first half."

Indiana coach Tom Crean said his team wasn't giving Illinois much room to maneuver.

"I think [we] were very aggressive," Crean said. "I think that's very important. We've got guys that can cover a lot of ground when they step out."

Both offenses were sluggish early and shot a combined 2-for-15 from the field through the first six minutes. Sheehey jump-started the Hoosiers with a 3-pointer for an 8-2 lead and added a short jumper 42 seconds later to make it 10-2.

Illinois, meanwhile, had a six minute, 41 second gap between field goals before Joe Bertrand scored on a fast break layup with 11:32 showing.

Zeller, who had 10 points by the 7:33 mark, closed the first half with 14 as Indiana opened a 35-21 lead. Paul scored nine for Illinois, which managed just 7-for-27 (25.9 percent) from the field.

Illinois shooting got better in the second half and the Illini temporarily surged back to within eight on Richardson's two free throws with 8:17 remaining.

But they got no closer as Indiana responded with an Olapido layup and a Watford three to push the lead back into double-digits at 65-52.

"In the second half ... it's 60-52, we have the ball with 7:50 to go. We're right there," Groce said. "But we just weren't able to stop them enough down the stretch. Our offense was good enough in the second half, our defense wasn't."

Indiana's lead hit 20 points in the final minute before Illinois cut the final margin to 16.

Despite the loss, there's likely more basketball ahead for the Illini as they await a spot in the NCAA tournament.

"Right now we're just excited for Sunday," Paul said. "We had a goal going into the season, so we're excited to see what happens."

Indiana, meanwhile, could make a strong case for a top tournament seed -- possibly an overall No. 1 --  if it goes on to win the Big Ten tournament Sunday.

"I would think that we have -- I would hope that we have -- done enough," Crean said. "But that remains to be seen."