INDIANAPOLIS – One and done.
And done in by turnovers. Again.
Indiana was ousted from the Big Ten tournament in its first game, with characteristic miscues giving life to ninth-seeded Illinois, which mounted a second-half surge before holding on for a 64-54 victory Thursday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Hoosiers came back from a nine-point deficit in the first half, establishing a five-point lead with about 14 minutes left in the game, then endured a mini meltdown, allowing the Illini to build a seven-point lead with 8 1/2 minutes left.
Indiana (17-15) got within one, but the veterans of the Illini (19-13) guided them into a second-round matchup with top-seeded Michigan.
“We’ve just never been as consistent as we need to be,” Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said.
Will Sheehey, who was a big factor in the first half for Indiana, finished with 13 points and five assists but fumbled the ball away once as the Hoosiers were outscored 14-2 over a five-minute stretch. A 38-33 lead turned into a 47-40 deficit.
Indiana lost a bit of its poise along with the lead as the Illini patiently capitalized on open looks and second-shot opportunities.
“That’s been the crux of our season,” Crean said. “You cannot lose intent even if it’s not going right for you. Intent covers a lot of things: competitiveness, awareness, grit. We have the talent. They just have to grow up.”
Although Noah Vonleh returned to the starting lineup for the first time in four games, it wasn’t enough to overcome the play of Illinois’ Tracy Abrams and Nnanna Egwu.
Abrams scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half, and Egwu, the defensive anchor, blocked five shots and held Vonleh to 3-of-9 shooting.
The Hoosiers had leads of one, two and three in the first half, but Illinois poked, prodded and eventually went to intermission with a 30-28 lead.
The Illini were the stronger team down the stretch, the point driven home by a wide-open Abrams 3-pointer with 2:05 left. That gave Illinois a 56-52 edge.
“A miscommunication at the top of the zone,” Hoosiers forward Austin Etherington said.
On the ensuing possession, Etherington misfired on a 3 from the right corner.
“It felt good,” he said. “I felt it was the right time and the right shot. If I hit that, I think the game changes.”
Eighth-seeded Indiana never challenged from there.
By the end, Illinois had shot better than the Hoosiers and had more free throws, as many 3s and only 10 giveaways.
Indiana, which could earn a bid to the NIT, committed 16 turnovers.
“We tried to fix it,” said Troy Williams, who posted 11 points and five rebounds. “We tried to start taking more care of the ball. Once again, in the game; … I don’t know.”
A telling moment came when Sheehey drove baseline and threw a pass out of bounds with 1:03 remaining and the Hoosiers trailing 58-52. Vonleh, the closest teammate, was drifting away from Sheehey.
“Communication is a big key,” said Vonleh, battling a foot injury. “We have to let guys know the flow of the game so we don’t have too many turnovers. Our turnovers started to go down in the middle of the season. Then it got back to where it was before.”
As a result, Indiana has been left looking for something more. The Hoosiers thought they had a chance this season, but mistakes will keep them out of the NCAA tournament.
“Days like today are hard,” Crean said. “As hard as we work to get out of it, it still carries over into games.”