Indiana turns over win in Illinois’ conference home opener

By Jeremy Werner

For the Illinois men’s basketball team, the six-day break felt more like an eternity after suffering its first conference setback in a 74-64 loss to Michigan on Jan. 4.

Indiana was unfortunate to be the scratch Illinois was aching to itch, as the Illini disposed of the Hoosiers in a dominant 76-45 victory on Sunday.

“After losing to Michigan, we didn’t feel too good coming home from that one,” senior guard Trent Meacham said. “It’s been a long week of practice since that. We were excited. We wanted to play for a long time now. We just came out on defense. We set the tone defensively and got stops.”

The Illini wasted little time in sending an early message to Indiana, speeding to a 21-2 lead. Meacham led the Illini with 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 7-of-9 on 3-pointers. Illinois shot 51 percent from the field and hit 13-of-25 from beyond the 3-point line

But Meacham said it was the defense that keyed the victory, as Illinois scored 31 points off of 19 Indiana turnovers. The Hoosiers outrebounded the Illini 35-23 – a cause of concern for Illinois all season.

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But first-year Indiana head coach Tom Crean’s inexperienced squad struggled from the field, shooting at a 39.2 percent rate. Freshman Nick Williams led Indiana with 12 points, while Champaign Central grad Verdell Jones scored 10 points in his homecoming. The Hoosiers’ leading scorer Devan Dumes left the game minutes after tip-off with an ankle injury.

“We just don’t have that guy or the guys who can help pull you through when things aren’t going right, and unfortunately it snowballed for us,” Crean said. “We have to keep trying to learn from it. We have to keep understanding that these are the kind of things that we try to prepare for.”

Illinois, which leads the Big Ten in assists with an average of 20 per game, took care of the ball again on Sunday, dishing out 17 assists compared to nine turnovers. Weber said improved ball handling from Meacham, Demetri McCamey and senior Chester Frazier has helped the Illini cure some of their ails from last season.

“You got a lot of guys who can pass the ball,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said. “When you take care of it like that and don’t turn it over, obviously it gets you lots of extra possessions. Last year, we turned it over and we didn’t make our free throws. That was also kind of a spirit breaker. We just get extra possessions that we didn’t have last year.”

Illinois leapt to a 45-20 lead at halftime, led by 15 first-half points, all on 3-pointers, from Trent Meacham. Dominique Keller came off the bench and scored 15 points, hitting 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, while sophomores Mike Davis and McCamey each scored 12.

“We played pretty good basketball,” Weber said. “The thing I was most pleased with was how we played. I was very disappointed – and our staff was – at Michigan. We didn’t play very hard. We didn’t defend … They reacted pretty well (against Indiana).”

The Illini will host Michigan (12-3) on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and are looking for revenge.

“We’re happy to get to play them again here at home,” Davis said. “Hopefully it’ll be packed again. It’ll be at our house this time. They’re a great team. Hopefully, they won’t get the threes they got last time.”