Indiana’s Robert Johnson reacts after hitting a shot during the first half of Saturday’s 96-80 blowout of Illinois at Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
Indiana’s James Blackmon Jr. busted out of his slump with a 25-point game against Illinois.
January 08, 2017 1:03 AM
Indiana 96 Illinois 80
Hoosiers get their minds right
Focused mentality leads to blowout win over Illinois
Chris Goff | The Journal Gazette
BLOOMINGTON – The right mindset worked wonders as Indiana got back on track.
Fighting to end a three-game losing streak, the Hoosiers breezed to a 96-80 win over Illinois Saturday at Assembly Hall, leading wire to wire and by double digits for virtually all of the contest.
“It was a mentality thing,” James Blackmon Jr. said. “I think guys were talking a lot more, helping each other out.”
Blackmon, in particular, played well, finishing with 25 points to bust out of his slump.
Thomas Bryant, who added 20 points and six rebounds, did not think losses to Wisconsin, Louisville and Nebraska since Christmas accurately reflected what type of team Indiana is.
“Got to bring your hard hat each and every time you go out on the floor,” Bryant said. “We can’t listen to the outside. We know what’s going on in here.
“That’s what I try to instill in myself and my teammates.”
The Fighting Illini (11-5, 1-2 Big Ten) didn’t score until their 11th possession, after IU had seized a 15-0 advantage.
From there, the rout was on.
The Hoosiers opened their lead to as many as 22 midway through the first half, and it was 48-29 at halftime before the Illini made a run to cut it down to single digits on a 3-pointer from Jalen Coleman-Lands (an Indianapolis native who finished with 21 points) with 51/2 minutes remaining.
“The difference was the start of the game,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “We knew they were going to give us their best shot. Coming off what they had been through, (IU coach Tom Crean) has got guys that have some pride.”
Indiana (11-5, 1-2) can now have a renewed sense of pride.
Appearances count here, so a big-time blowout may boost the team’s confidence, as will the sense they consistently worked hard for 40 minutes.
At times the Hoosiers acted as if it was all too complicated for them, as if they’re too aloof to remember mundane things such as making the extra pass, communicating on defense and not straying from game plans.
Against Illinois, there were some corrections, Crean said.
“I never saw that head drop and that’s so important with a young team,” Crean said. “It’s so important they don’t start having self-doubt and talking to themselves when something is not going right. We didn’t have any of that, and that’s a great step for us. That’s the maturity we’ve got to have.”
The Hoosiers shot a red-hot 59 percent, including 13 3s, but one could argue their key play came at the defensive end.
At 16:29 of the first half, Robert Johnson, who had 18 points, stepped in front of a driving Malcolm Hill to draw his third foul, sending Illinois’ best player to the bench. Hill sat all but eight minutes of the first half and scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half.
Details matter. Little things.
“Even last year’s team, as old as they were, took time to understand that,” Crean said. “And it guarantees us nothing in the next game (Tuesday at Maryland) but when they stay locked in, locked into details, not get distracted, they do the things that need to get done.”