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The Journal Gazette

  • Indiana guard Aljami Durham reacts after a dunk against Illinois during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Bloomington, Ind., Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. Indiana defeated Illinois 78-68. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Thursday, February 15, 2018 12:40 am

Final observations: Indiana vs. Illinois

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON — Indiana's victories over Rutgers and Minnesota were fun games to watch. It was aesthetically-pleasing basketball as the Hoosiers moved the ball, made 3-pointers and generally dominated on defense.

Tonight's game was not that. Illinois loves playing ugly games and in this matchup it forced Indiana to do just that. The Hoosiers shot 59 percent (they shot 56 percent the first time these teams met), but they also turned the ball over 18 times. The second half, much like in the first meeting between these teams, was an inexorable foul fest, with a whistle on seemingly every other possession.

After rushing out to a 10-point lead at halftime, Indiana watched Illinois close the gap early in the second half by getting into passing lanes and forcing turnovers. That's what Illinois does; it gets up closer to the other team's ball-handlers than any other group in the conference and dares opposing teams to make difficult skip passes.

The Hoosiers got a little flustered in the second half, turning the ball over six times in the first 10 minutes of the half. At that juncture, the Illini had cut the lead to just two multiple times. It looked for a few minutes like it would be a carbon copy of the first game, when Illinois came from behind to win because Indiana got sloppy.

However, in the month since that game, the Hoosiers have matured. Instead of letting the game get away from them as they might have earlier in the year, they relaxed on offense, slowed the pace a little and worked the ball around for better shots. Aljami Durham had a huge five-point spurt that made it 59-51 near the midway point of the half and allowed the crowd to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

This was one of those games that an improving team has to win as part of its maturation process. It was anything but easy, but the Hoosiers kept their composure and grinded out a third straight win. They'll have the chance to do so again on the road Saturday against Iowa. With freshmen Durham and Justin Smith playing key roles tonight, the Hoosiers have an ever-expanding list of players who can get them out of a funk if necessary. It was necessary Wednesday and the freshmen stepped up.