Indiana men’s basketball looks to exorcise street demons against Illinois Thursday night

November 18, 2022: Indiana men’s basketball team’s first and only away win this season.

The 81-79 win came as a preseason test at now-no. 8 Xavier University, highlighted by senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis and graduate guard Xavier Johnson’s combined 53 points. A Hoosier win at the rowdy Cintas Center was an encouraging sight for a team that had plenty of street fights of their own last year and finished the season 3-8 in that category.

But since then, Indiana has not won a basketball game outside of its home state.

The Hoosiers are 1-4 on the road, and three of those losses have been by 15 points or more. The fourth was a two-point loss in Iowa on Jan. 5 after Indiana gradually gave up a 21-point lead.

Now head coach Mike Woodson’s side have a chance to end an away-conference losing streak in Illinois and claim their first win at State Farm Arena since 2019.

The Hoosiers won their last matchup against the Illini in the quarterfinals of the 2022 Big Ten tournament, 65-63. Jackson-Davis defeated then Illinois Junior All-American center Kofi Cockburn in his final bout, sealing Indiana’s bid for the 2022 NCAA tournament.

The Hoosiers and Illini, who now have multiple conference games under their belts, will face off Thursday night in Champaign, Illinois, each with something to prove and a sense of urgency. The stakes of this matchup are higher than usual for a mid-January weekend game. Both teams could move into the top-25 with a statement win and gain momentum to advance in the Big Ten standings.

From the makeup of each roster to their dreadful losses and flashy wins, Indiana and Illinois have somewhat parallel seasons in some interesting ways.

Indiana’s Jackson-Davis and Illinois senior guard Terrence Shannon Jr. were named to the unofficial midseason All-Big Ten team earlier this week. Both star players average just over 17 points and more than 30 minutes per game.

The Hoosiers and Illini have each lost a handful of important plays since they last met. Indiana’s Johnson and graduate Race Thompson were ruled out indefinitely after suffering serious lower-body injuries, and Illinois lost their top five scorers of the 2021-2022 season to the NBA draft and transfer portal.

Illinois freshman guard Skyy Clark, who attended Montverde Academy with Indiana freshmen guard Jalen Hood-Schifino and forward Malik Reneau, has resigned from the team for personal reasons, he announced Jan. 6. Clark was the highest-ranking recruit in Illinois’ 2022 undersigning class and averaged 7 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game during his time with the Illini.

New arrivals from each squad have played an important role in the teams’ success so far. Hood-Schifino has hit double digits in eight straight games, including a 33-point game against Northwestern. Illinois-born forward Matthew Mayer, a transfer from Baylor University, and freshman Dain Dainja are the second- and third-best scorers on the Illini, averaging 11.1 and 10.4 points, respectively.

The schedules of both teams also show some similarities. Indiana and Illinois defeated their ACC Big Ten Challenge foes, losing to Northwestern and getting thrashed by non-conference Midwestern opponents.

A 12-point win over then-No. 18 University of North Carolina for Indiana and a 29-point win over Syracuse University for Illinois were highlights of the non-conference list. However, the conclusion of the non-conference game was not comfortable for either team as Indiana lost 84-62 to the now No. 1. 2 University of Kansas on December 17, and Illinois lost 93-71 to the University of Missouri on December 22.

Both also lost to Northwestern within four days earlier in the calendar year. The Hoosiers lost the Wildcats 84-83 — despite the outstanding efforts of Jackson-Davis and Hood-Schifino — on Jan. 8, and the Illini fell 73-60 to their state foes on Jan. 4.

Though Indiana is shorthanded, it won’t be surpassed tonight. The Hoosiers have a serious shot at proving themselves on the streets, climbing the conference ladder and turning their season around.