(Photo Credit: IndianaHQ)

BLOOMINGTON, IN — Indiana fans, it’s time to get used to this. Another game, another slow start. But most importantly, another win. The Hoosiers take care of business against an irritating Illini team by a score of 73-65. The Hoosiers move to 12-2 on the season and 3-0 in conference play.

The Illini, visiting Bloomington to re-open Big Ten play, brought their 4-9 record with them and also their signature Brad Underwood guard-pressure defense. The headliner for the evening was the whistle. A total of 41 fouls were called this evening.

Coming off of a 12-day break, Indiana did not come out energetic and focused to start the game. Surprise, surprise. In conjunction with their aggressive ball pressure, the Illini crowded passing lanes and seemed to get their fingers on any pass that was not the safest of the safest for Indiana. The Hoosiers only had 3 assists in the entire first half and 9 to close out the game.

After a 10-0 scoring run by Illinois put the Illini up 23-13 at 10:20 in the first half, Indiana started to slowly show up to the game.

As mentioned in our scouting report, the battle of the border was very real this evening between top 2019 guard recruit out of Illinois Ayo Dosunmu and top 2019 guard recruit out of Indiana Romeo Langford. The play style of Brad Underwood teams is nothing short of aggravating for guards. Their nonstop guard pressure pesters the opponent into turnovers and sometimes into big plays. Romeo, who was bothered early and coughed up the ball twice, channeled that onto the court. Midway through the first half, he took over. He wanted to score on Ayo, and he did. He wanted to lock him down on defense, and he did.

Ayo finished the game with an impressive 20 points. Romeo set a career high in scoring tonight as he finished with a game high 28 points, 6 rebounds. He previously scored 22 twice against Arkansas and Marquette. Both star guards proved why they were at the top of the recruiting rankings for their respective state.

While Zach McRoberts provided solid minutes this evening, the team really missed the presence of their freshman true point guard Robert Phinisee who did not play today due to Indiana’s concussion protocol. Their longing for Rob manifested today in the form of early turnovers. In fact, the only players that did not turn the ball over in the first half were Zach, Damezi, and Evan who combined for a total of 13 minutes in that segment.

As for the other guards, Al Durham played fairly efficiently but ran into foul trouble after picking up his third foul early in the second half. Although he was not on the court very long, he handled the ball well and handled taking over some of Phinisee’s typical responsibilities. At the 2:20 minute mark, Al Durham got fouled himself and made two clutch free throws to halt the crawling Illini who pulled within just 4 points. Of the 35 free throws taken by Indiana tonight, Durham made 5 of his 6. With 4 fouls, he got just shy of 24 minutes of play.

Devonte Green on the other hand played a lot more erratic than his stats line would otherwise suggest. He had a number of risky passes and a few bad layups, which included some bailed out by Illini fouls, and one ugly airball. Yes, he airballed at the rim on a layup. Ironically, Devonte continues to have good shot selection on the floor, but still has not yet found the stroke of which we know he is capable.

In the front court Juwan Morgan matched up against Illinois’ Giorgi Bezhanishvili who has been slowly making a name for himself. While most of the attention this evening was on the guards, Juwan and Giorgi sized up in the backdrop. Both players were able to produce under the paint, but senior Juwan Morgan had the much better all around game. Juwan followed his triple-double performance with a double-double. Giorgi had an efficient 18 points on 8 of 10 shooting, but also had 5 turnovers.

We have discovered that Justin Smith has two settings, a scoring mode and a rebounding mode. Tonight he was definitely in the rebounding mode, but that did not prevent him from getting to the rim for a very efficient 4 of 5 from the field. With the Illini attention on the guards and Juwan Morgan, Justin Smith found paths to cut towards the bucket for easy drops. Smith produced 8 points and 6 rebounds for the Hoosiers.

Of Indiana’s deeper rotation, De’Ron Davis really impressed in his 5 minutes of play. He scored twice and drew 3 fouls in that short time.

Indiana had control of the game tonight, but it was not pretty. Frankly, fans will likely need to get used to this style of play until the team can reach their ultimate ceiling with the talent on the roster. Until then, Indiana will start slow, scrap and battle, and find ways to finish.

Box Score

(Source: Indiana Athletics)

Illinois vs Indiana
Illinois vs Indiana

Next Up

The Hoosiers continue Big Ten with one of their most difficult tests this season that matches the same tier of difficulty as the contest in Durham in the early season. Indiana goes to Ann Arbor on Sunday, January 6th to face the #2 ranked Michigan Wolverines. Due to competing air time against the NFL Playoffs, the game tips at 4:30 PM EST on CBS.

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