Illinois men’s basketball plays foul at Indiana, loses 5th of last 6

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – In a game where the Illinois men’s basketball team was whistled for 30 personal fouls, the most consequential one may have come at the 12:29 mark in the second half.

With Illinois trailing 57-54, D.J. Richardson got open for a 3-pointer, which he shot and made. Instead of tying the game, the shot was not counted because of a Meyers Leonard foul off the ball, his fourth of the night.

“Now you get a fourth foul instead of a tie game, they get the ball,” Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said.

Illinois (16-8, 5-6 Big Ten) would get as close as three just once from that point on, ultimately falling to No. 23 Indiana (19-6, 7-6) 84-71 in Bloomington, Ind.

Leonard, who had 17 points at the time of his fourth foul, would not score again, and was eventually one of three Illini to foul out of the game.

Besides Leonard, only Richardson and senior Brandon Paul ended the game in double figures for Illinois, with Richardson tallying a team-high 19 points, a stat he said he could do without.

“I’d rather have a win and low points,” Richardson said.

The winner of this week’s battle of Big Ten big men was Indiana freshman Cody Zeller, who finished with a game-high 22 points.

“He (Leonard) lost his poise a little bit, got bopped a little bit,” Weber said. “It’s just part of growing up, learning how to be a big man in the Big Ten. You just wish he’d get a couple calls when people bopped him.

“One play he’ll make, he looks like a lottery player. The next play he makes, looks like he’s never played,” Weber added.

Indiana made 35 of its 42 free throw attempts, of which Illinois had just 15. The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in free throw attempts on the season, with 621. Illinois has 416.

The Hoosiers also entered Thursday’s game shooting 49.5 percent from the field, good for seventh in the nation.

They shot 50 percent against Illinois.

In Weber’s four previous losses to Indiana in Bloomington, Illinois was outscored by a combined 13 points, equal to Thursday’s margin of defeat. The lopsided point total was unusual for an Illinois team that won or lost its past eight games by five points or fewer.

Weber said he did not believe effort was a problem for Illinois, which has now lost five of its last six games.

“I told them I’m not mad at them,” Weber said. “I’m mad from Sunday (a 74-70 loss to Northwestern) and back a couple weeks ago, but that’s done and over. You can’t do anything about it.”

The road doesn’t get any easier for the Illini, who have upcoming games at No. 22 Michigan, against Purdue at home, at Nebraska and at No. 3 Ohio State.

“These are not easy games to win,” Weber said. “And that’s where the regret should be two weeks ago and Sunday. That’s where the regret is, it’s not today.”