Illini implode at Indiana, lose 103-69

By Alex Roux

Illinois did Tuesday what you absolutely can’t afford to do if you want to win at Indiana.

It let the Hoosiers play downhill.

The Illini were backpedaling on defense all night in their 103-69 loss to Indiana as the Hoosiers (16-3, 6-0) effortlessly picked apart the Illinois defense at Assembly Hall. When the Illini weren’t desperately trying to keep up, they were often stuck in crimson and cream quicksand as Troy Williams and Thomas Bryant blew by them for dunks.

“The second half I just thought we were atrocious defensively,” Illinois head coach John Groce said after the game. “I thought our effort was poor on that end of the floor.”

While Illinois (9-10, 1-5 Big Ten) was helpless trying to stay in front of Indiana’s athletic lineup defensively, it wasn’t doing much to make up for it on the offensive end. Following a 10-0 Illini run capped off by a Malcolm Hill three to draw the visitors within a 22-21 deficit, the Illinois offense was a mess the rest of the game.

The Illini generated very few easy looks in the first half while Indiana turned up the heat in transition on the way to a 42-27 halftime deficit. The wheels then completely fell off in the second. Indiana ripped off 61 points in the second half and finished the night with a school-record 19 3-pointers.

All of this culminated in a complete embarrassment on ESPN’s Super Tuesday for Illinois. They were demolished. It looked like the JV team scrimmaging the varsity. Even points no. 99 and 100 of the game came on a tip dunk where no Illini players bothered to block out.

To encapsulate the embarrassment that took place Tuesday in Bloomington, look no further than Indiana forward Max Bielfeldt. The 6-foot-8 senior scored 16 points and nabbed eight rebounds, but here’s the kicker: The Bielfeldt name is on the University of Illinois’ athletic administration building, courtesy of his grandparents’ financial donation. His sister is married to NBA player and former Illini Meyers Leonard.

But there Bielfeldt was Tuesday, imposing his will on an Illini program that originally never wanted him. And this was after playing three seasons at Michigan, where his Wolverines went 6-1 against the school where his grandparents donated a building that is basically the seat of the Illini athletic department.

The only bright spots for Illinois were Malcolm Hill’s 20 points and the return of injured center Mike Thorne Jr. Thorne was still noticeably limited in 16 minutes, still recovering from a torn meniscus and playing 14 pounds heavier than when he left the lineup on November 28. But he scored nine points and hauled in nine rebounds thanks to his 6-foot-11 frame, eating up space in the paint and providing a much-needed inside presence for Illinois.

Indiana’s stat lines resemble a video game’s. Troy Williams scored a game-high 21. Robert Johnson had 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists. But it was Yogi Ferrell’s night, as the senior point guard put up 16 points and dished nine dimes, including a no-look to Bielfeldt that secured his spot as the all-time assist leader in Hoosier history.

It was all laughs and celebration Tuesday for first-place Indiana, but Illinois’ situation is much more bleak. Coming off a 25-point blowout at Michigan State, this was the Illini’s second straight collapse on the road with the whole country watching. They haven’t won a road game since last Feb. 7, and their 34-point drubbing marked the program’s eighth straight road loss, if you include last season’s crushing defeat at Alabama in the NIT. It’s starting to feel like this team could have trouble winning a single road game this year.

As the deficit ballooned into the thirties late in the second half, courtside reporters could hear Groce yelling at his team that they had “no pride.” After the game Groce stressed that leaders need to emerge amongst the players and once again questioned his team’s effort and toughness.

This is the type of collapse I’ve been looking for since it became apparent that Illinois wouldn’t sniff an at-large tourney berth this year. We saw shades of it in the Michigan State game, but that was when the Illini were down Kendrick Nunn against the No. 5 team in the country. Indiana is a pretty good team, but not 34 points better than this Illini roster. Illinois players and coaches completely lost control.

Currently, the players aren’t playing anywhere near their capabilities as a unit and the coaches have no clue how to fix it.

A total implosion in Big Ten play is this team’s worst-case scenario. If what we saw at Indiana Tuesday is any indication, it could already be underway.

Alex is a senior in AHS.

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@aroux94