Indiana entered Thursday’s game riding high with a five-game winning streak including a victory over top-ranked Michigan. Illinois was reeling, having started Big Ten play with just a 2-7 record.
The Hoosiers looked to have control of the contest with a ten-point lead prior to the final media timeout. However, Illinois continued to fight and their pressure defense wreaked just enough havoc to give the Illini an opportunity at the end.
With the score tied at 72, the Hoosiers put the ball in Victor Oladipo’s hands with time winding down. However, the junior All-American candidate lost control of the ball, leading to an Illinois opportunity at the other end. However, Oladipo made up for his mistake with a huge blocked shot of Brandon Paul’s attempt at the game-winner.
The clock stopped with .9 remaining. Illinois executed perfectly on the inbounds play, as Paul hit a cutting Tyler Griffey wnear the basket. The 6-9 senior converted as time expired giving Illinois a 74-72 victory.
“It was me and Yogi, we had a mix-up. You know, it was a busted play and they got a layup,” explained senior forward Christian Watford after the breakdown.
As you might expect from such an exciting win over a top-ranked team, the Illinois fans stormed the Assembly Hall court, then celebrated again once the officials ruled the basket good after checking the replay monitor.
“We didn’t put them away when we had the opporutnities, that is really what the bottom line is,” said Tom Crean after the game. “When you’re going against great talent, which this league is full of, you’ve got to stay committed for 40 minutes.”
Crean also referenced an inability to put away Michigan just five days ago, even though IU came away victorious. Senior guard Jordan Hulls re-iterated the need to improve in the critical moments of games.
“If we want to be great team we’ve gotta be able to do that, we didn’t take care of the ball and they were able to hit big shots. You let a team like Illinois hang around, they’re going to hit big shots like that.”
The first ten minutes of the game were a bit sloppy, however it could’ve been characterized as a defensive game. Indiana led just 19-18 after a Brandon Paul three-pointer, but proceeded to go on a 20-to-7 run that ended on Will Sheehey’s dunk late in the first half to lead 39-to-25.
On the play, Sheehey was given a technical foul for taunting. The two Illinois free throws didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but the play proved costly when you consider the final margin.
The victory ends a four-game home losing streak for Illinois, while Indiana falls into a tie for first place in the Big Ten. The result likely means a new team will be ranked #1 in the polls next week. That hasn’t been a great place as the last five weeks the top-ranked team in the nation has lost during the week following earning that ranking.
The Hoosiers (20-3, 8-3) play 10th-ranked Ohio State Sunday afternoon in Columbus. Illinois (16-8, 3-7) travels to Minnesota Sunday evening.