Illini pick up sluggish win

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By Lisa Koulias

On Thursday, Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said he was expecting a letdown at some point this season.

After high-energy games at Wisconsin and Michigan State, a downer game was inevitable.

Weber said Sunday’s game was the Illini’s letdown.

Although the No. 1 Illini picked up a 60-47 win against Indiana to continue their quest for an unbeaten season, the Illini looked sluggish, shooting only 43 percent.

“I think we’ve had some emotional games,” Weber said. “We probably played as well on offense as you could play against Michigan State, especially in the second half.

“I’m not sure our guys were quite mentally ready to play like we needed to. But I think at the same time it’s good because they sat in the locker room disappointed. They didn’t feel real good about themselves.”

While the Illini are constantly getting acclaim for their offense, it was the defense that came up big on Sunday, holding Indiana to only 47 points, the second-lowest opponent scoring of the season.

“We just get stops; that’s the key playing,” junior guard Deron Williams said. “Every night you can’t be on. We just had to come out and defend. I think everyone looks at our offense, but we win games off of our defense.”

The defense started out hot, holding Indiana without a field goal through the first 7:10 of play and scoreless for the first 4:31.

“Defensively, they really kind of took us out of what we wanted to do,” Indiana head coach Mike Davis said. “They did a great job defensively, just kind of crowding us.”

The Illini first showed signs of fatigue after their 18-3 lead at 9:26. The Illini were held to only eight points for the rest of the first half, and the Hoosiers went on a scoring surge, coming within six at halftime.

“We did struggle a little bit because they were small,” Weber said. “We didn’t contain the dribble and we were maybe a little tired at the end of the first half, which maybe got them back into the game.

“But I thought we defended well.”

James Augustine continued to show his consistency for the Illini. The junior forward finished with a game-high 16 points, including an exhilarating dunk in the first three minutes to get the fans on their feet.

“James has been very consistent in the Big Ten,” Weber said. “I think he has really become a bona fide Big Ten inside guy. There is no doubt about that.”

Williams, who only scored one point, had an excellent game, dishing out 11 assists. He recorded assists on eight of Illinois’ first 10 field goals. At 16:18 in the second half, Augustine recorded an assist, marking the first assist of the game by a player other than Williams.

“We got a W, that’s all I care about,” Williams said. “I didn’t shoot the ball well.”

“That’s an excellent game. You control the ball and get it to the right people,” junior guard Dee Brown said of his teammate’s performance.

Indiana, who was missing its leading scorer in Bracey Wright (out with a sprained ankle), started four freshmen. The team usually starts three freshmen. Freshmen D.J. Wright and Robert Vaden contributed 12 points each to lead the Hoosiers.

“I just figured they would never be in this situation, have this opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country as a freshman, on the road, in a tough place to play,” Davis said of his freshmen. “I wanted to give these guys a taste of what it felt like to go against the best team in the country, so they would have a great memory of the team that they need to be.”

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