Smile Politely

Lackluster Illini lashed by Hoosiers

Things more entertaining than Illinois basketball on Thursday night:

  1. Signs in the Orange Krush
  2. Dan Dakich getting fired up by the Illinois bench
  3. A dance-off between ushers on the jumbotron during a timeout
  4. Arguments between Indiana and Illini fans
  5. Watching cocky Hoosiers fans get lost in the State Farm parking lot

None of these things made up for the Illinois’s output on the floor, however. The Illini played a dull, lifeless second half and were blown away by Indiana, 74-47, in the team’s worst scoring night since Jan. 11, 2015 (a 53-43 loss at Nebraska).

As with the game at Wisconsin four days earlier, Illinois (12-16, 4-11) was very much in the game at halftime, again holding a slim lead at the break, 28-27. But it didn’t feel like Illinois had a right to be that close with the number 18 (or 15, depending on which poll you like) team in the nation. After starting the game with a 14-4 lead thanks to 8 quick points from Indiana native Jalen Coleman-Lands, the Illini went the next 6-plus minutes with a basket. Likewise, the Illini turned the ball over 7 times in the first half and Malcolm Hill was a paltry 0-2 from the field, looking completely out of rhythm. Yet, Illinois managed to keep Thomas Bryant’s contributions limited (just 10 minutes after 2 fouls) and held the Hoosiers (23-6, 13-3) in check from deep (just 3/15 shooting beyond the arc).

Then, after halftime, the lights came on for Indiana. Suddenly, the Hoosiers could not stop making threes, with, who else, Yogi Ferrell leading the way. Ferrell went 5 for 6 from deep, working his way to a game-high 27 points, and Indiana shot 10/17 as a team on three-pointers, putting a dagger in the back of the Illini. An 18-5 opening was all it took for the guests to claim a lead they would never relinquish and continue to pile on.

About the only bright spot for Illinois was Coleman-Lands, whose 21 points are evidence of his continued maturation. But no one else in gray and orange could even muster double-digit scoring on Thursday. Kendrick Nunn was uncharacteristically poor from long range, going 0 for 3 behind the arc with just 8 points; and Maverick Morgan’s run of solid play was similarly halted, as the big man had just 4 points and 4 rebounds. No one was quite so rattled as Hill, however, as the Illini leader was held to single-digit scoring for just the second time this season. Indiana’s strategy of playing lengthy, athletic guards on him and double-teaming him when the ball came his way limited Hill to 5 points on just 7 field goal attempts.

Watching the game, I was reminded of my own recreation soccer team. We’re are definitely not one of the best teams in our league, and we frequently lose games in the second half, but we play with heart and have fun despite the losing. The thing is, no one cares one bit about my rec soccer team. Illinois, with its lackluster second halves, has turned away any fans that did care by now, and no one is having fun in these losses.

With just one home game left on the schedule, the end of the season feels like a mercy killing. And, in light of the performance on Thursday, I think the players might be looking forward to the offseason as much as the fans.

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