Offense falters, fails to find rhythm in Illinois men’s basketball’s 65-63 loss to Indiana in Big Ten tournament

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Cameron Krasucki

Head coach Brad Underwood grabs and yells at graduate student guard Alfonso Plummer during Illinois’ 65-63 loss to Indiana in the Big Ten tournament on Friday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The offense struggled throughout the contest, and the team shot 35.7% from the field.

By Jackson Janes, Outgoing Sports Editor

Off the back of a dramatic and emotional win on Sunday over Iowa to earn a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship, Illinois headed to Indianapolis for the Big Ten tournament, a competition it won in 2021.

Despite having momentum from that historic night in Champaign, the top-seeded Illini struggled offensively throughout the 40 minutes of play on Friday, ultimately falling to the No. 9 seed Indiana Hoosiers, 65-63.

Illinois shot 35.7% from the field in the loss, its second-worst mark of the year, while it went 36.4% from behind the 3-point line and 65.2% from the free-throw line.

“Hats off to Indiana. They were really good,” said Illinois head coach Brad Underwood. “(I) thought that we just kind of hung in there.”

After getting off to a flying start, with graduate student Alfonso Plummer and fifth-year senior Trent Frazier each knocking a triple on the Illini’s first two possessions of the game.

But the offense went ice cold after that, going over nine minutes without a field goal.

A recurring theme throughout the game was missed layups and uncontested shots, and Illinois failed to convert during its field-goal drought. Sophomore guard Andre Curbelo missed a layup, while junior center Omar Payne caught an alley-oop pass from fifth-year senior guard Trent Frazier but could not finish at the rim.

“At the end of the day, you can’t miss free throws, and we missed six layups in the first half,” Underwood said. “I don’t know how many we missed in the second, and you can’t do that and win games.”

Plummer had an unusual off night in Friday’s loss. After knocking down the 3-pointer on his first attempt of the afternoon, he missed his next six shots before snapping the skid with a triple with just over five minutes to play in the first half.

He attempted just four shots in the second half and finished with six points on 2-12 shooting, including 2-7 from behind the 3-point line. His 16.7% performance from the field was his second-lowest mark of the season, behind just a 14.3% outing against Wisconsin on Feb. 2.

Plummer was not the only Illini who struggled, though, as Curbelo scored five points on 1-7 shooting and often looked uncomfortable and out of control when driving to the basket.

Illinois frequently found itself at the free-throw line, as the Illini attempted 23 free throws compared to the Hoosiers’ 13.

These were anything but free for Illinois, as it went 15-23 from the stripe.

“You can’t miss, you know, easy layups, and we can’t miss free throws,” Frazier said. “It’s March, you know, we know it’s going to be a one-, two-possession game, and we didn’t come up with those easy plays. We need to get all the easy plays we can get, and we didn’t execute on those.”

With the Illini no longer able to defend their 2021 Big Ten tournament title, they will return to action next week in the NCAA tournament. Their seed, opponent and location will be announced on Sunday.

“I think the next step for us is just get back, regroup, you know, start getting better and just prepare for Thursday or Friday and our next opponent,” Frazier said. “That’s just got to be our mindset. We’ve just got to wipe this out of the way, let it go and just prepare because you know our goal is the Final Four and that’s what we’re trying to do. So we’ve got to move on.”

 

@JacksonJanes3

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