Illinois hangs around but loses battle to Indiana

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Illinois hangs around but loses battle to Indiana

Illinois head coach Brad Underood talks to guard Alan Griffin (0) during the game against UNLV at State Farm Center on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018.

Illinois head coach Brad Underood talks to guard Alan Griffin (0) during the game against UNLV at State Farm Center on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018.

Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach Brad Underood talks to guard Alan Griffin (0) during the game against UNLV at State Farm Center on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018.

Austin Yattoni

Austin Yattoni

Illinois head coach Brad Underood talks to guard Alan Griffin (0) during the game against UNLV at State Farm Center on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018.

By Brian Binz, Staff Writer

Coming off the worst loss under head coach Brad Underwood against Florida Atlantic, the road for the Illinois men’s basketball team doesn’t get any easier.

Illinois lost their third straight game and third straight Big Ten conference contest against No. 21 Indiana 73-65.

Unlike against FAU, the Illini jumped out to a quick start behind freshmen Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Ayo Dosunmu. At the under eight minute TV timeout, the Illini grew their lead to 10 points, up 25-15 with 11 of the 25 coming from the freshman duo.

“I loved the start of the game, establishing Giorgi on the block,” Underwood said. “He’s proved he can score against the best players in the country.”

However, as they’ve done all year, Indiana responded with a run of their own. Behind a 17-7 spurt led by freshman Romeo Langford, the two teams went into halftime tangled at 32-32.

A familiar problem, the Illini were slow coming out of the half, as the Hoosiers built a double-digit lead with 12:36 to go behind a 14-3 run.

“The game was decided in the last three minutes of the first half and the start of the second,” Underwood said. “Just bad execution.”

Once again, it was Langford doing the damage, as the Illini couldn’t contain him inside or out and he was responsible for the first 10 points of the half for the Hoosiers.

The Illini hung around before making a run to cut the lead to just four with under three minutes to go, but it was too little too late as Indiana closed it out with a couple of stops to go with free throws to ice the game.

“We’ve got to do a better job throwing the punch in the second half,” Dosunmu said. “We’ve been taking the punches.”

The Indiana defense was the story of the second half, forcing the Illini into a season-high 21 turnovers, and scored 22 points off those turnovers. The Illini did get in the bonus early in the half but were unable to capitalize as Indiana cleaned up fouling trouble and went on to shoot 23 more free throws than Illinois.

Dosunmu finished with 20 points coming off a strong performance against FAU, and Bezhanishvili continued his strong play against the top tier of frontcourt players he’s faced this year, with 18 points and seven rebounds.

After those two players, the Illini offense fell off with the third leading scorer being Trent Frazier with 11 points on 4-13 shooting. The other two starters, Kipper Nichols and Aaron Jordan, combined for just 2-12 shooting, 0-7 from three.

Langford led the Hoosiers with a career-high 28 points, and Juwan Morgan put up another double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

“[Langford] is as good as advertised,” Underwood said. “He’s really athletic and powerful and it allows him to be a great finisher.”

The Illini put center Adonis De La Rosa on the freshman at times to deter him from driving, but in the second half, Langford found the angles to take De La Rosa off the dribble, forcing fouls and finishing at the rim.

With the loss the Illini continue their worst start in over a decade with a 4-10 record, falling to 0-3 in the cellar of the Big Ten.

However, the start has not deterred Underwood.

“There’s no magical potion,” Underwood said. “It’s continued growth.”

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