Indiana men’s basketball retaliates against familiar antagonist, Illinois dominates 80-65

Sometimes you have to look in the mirror and realize that you are your own worst enemy.

On Thursday night, Indiana men’s basketball faced a familiar opponent. It wasn’t an Illinois team in recent years. It wasn’t even one of the six other Big Ten teams from earlier in his schedule.

The Hoosiers played themselves. And the better version won.

From the start of the first half, the Illini played sloppy basketball, slow on defense and frantic on offense. Illinois made a handful of mistakes, both strategically and mentally, that ultimately cost them the game — and it wasn’t close.

From a lack of defensive execution to an abundance of rim misses to subpar free throw shots, the Hoosiers saw something all too familiar in their opponent.

They knew exactly how to deal with it.

Indiana built a 33-14 lead with 6:38 in the first half, sustained some bursts of Illinois momentum and still went into double figures at halftime.

Maybe it was an increase in confidence and mental toughness, or maybe it was the Hoosiers looking in a mirror.

Indiana completely turned the script around after losing three games, using the Illini’s mistakes to deliver a brutal punch. It was a blow the Hoosiers knew well — they’d already been put down against Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State.

But as the wise saying goes, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

Whether Mike Woodson intentionally took a page from the respective basketball books of Fran McCaffery, Chris Collins, or Micah Shrewsberry is neither here nor there. But Woodson’s team played like a team educated well by their losses.

Throughout the game, Illinois chose not to double down on Indiana elder forward Trayce Jackson-Davis — no help at all by the post, lane, or baseline.

Just as Indiana’s disorganized defense cost them a loss to a hot-blooded Penn State team on Jan. 11, Illinois’ unusual decision earned them an all-American whooping cough.

Spin move after spin move, backdown after backdown and -1 after and-1. Jackson-Davis was dominant, strong and — most importantly — incredibly comfortable.

The Illini’s biggest defensive misstep resulted in 35 points — a Big Ten career high for Jackson-Davis — on a 79% shooting. Even with a balanced defense covering the rest of the court, Jackson-Davis still had five assists for junior guard Trey Galloway, grad forward Miller Kopp and junior forward Jordan Geronimo.

Various Hoosiers spent the night cutting through the defensive gaps and along the baseline, surprising defenders lulled to sleep by Jackson-Davis’s patience with the ball. The defensive intensity — or lack of it — was Indiana’s biggest downfall against Northwestern, and the Hoosiers made the Illini look just as stupid as they did on Jan. 8 despite making the same mistakes.

Illinois also had a dismal 9-of-23 outing from the free-throw line, missing countless opportunities to reduce Indiana’s lead and gain momentum. While the game was largely decided by the Hoosiers’ wins versus the Illini’s mistakes, a simple point loss certainly didn’t help.

Home crowd is home crowd and the Illini were able to pull off some powerful pushes and turns towards the end of the second half. Indiana found themselves in dangerous territory after a 10-2 run in Illinois with less than eight minutes remaining.

Against Iowa, a 21-point lead in Indiana ended in a two-point loss. With the upcoming U8 timeout in Illinois, a 20-point lead had shrunk to 12.

But the Hoosiers have proven—once again—that they’ve changed.

Indiana went on a 13-6 run before Woodson swapped out starters and first-string rotary players, unaffected by the pressures of Illinois and the rough road environment. While the breakup against the Hawkeyes was as nightmarish a feat as the Hoosiers could have expected, a scare against the Illini was never a scare for too long.

The Hoosiers cast out their demons Thursday night, and they may have claimed where their true identity lies.

This story will be updated.

Follow reporter Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz) and columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.