Tag Archives: Illinois Fighting Illini

Hoosiers lose, look toward next season

INDIANAPOLIS — IU traded scoring runs with Illinois throughout Thursday’s 64-54 loss, but the Illini had the final say when they closed the game on an 11-2 run.

A defensive lapse by the Hoosiers led to Illinois guard Tracy Abrams knocking down a wide-open 3-pointer with 2:07 remaining in the game, providing his team some breathing room in what was at the time a one-point game.

“That was the dagger that hurt,” sophomore point guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell said.

IU’s loss ended the team’s hopes of earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s always disappointing not to make the goal that we had set at the beginning of the year, but it’s been like a roller coaster this year,” Ferrell said.

He said the team’s goal was to win a national championship.

After a 17-15 record in their 2013-14 campaign, the Hoosiers will not be invited to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Instead, they are likely to play in the National Invitational Tournament.

Despite IU’s down year after making two consecutive appearances in the Sweet 16, there is a sense of hope among the players about next season.

“I think we can be very good, especially make a tournament run,” Ferrell said. “Of course we’re going to want to do that.”

Senior forwards Will Sheehey and Jeff Howard will graduate this spring, and graduate student guard Evan Gordon will exhaust his eligibility after this season.

However, most of the Hoosiers’ roster is set return next season, provided Big Ten Freshman of the Year Noah Vonleh — a potential top-10 pick in this year’s NBA draft — elects to stay in school.

IU Coach Tom Crean’s starting lineup Thursday included three freshmen and a sophomore, providing the Hoosiers a foundation to build upon for the future.

Across the board, IU’s freshmen have shown improvements in February and March.

Freshman guard Stanford Robinson scored a season-high 17 points off the bench in IU’s win against then-No. 20 Iowa on Feb. 27.

Troy Williams was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week last week after scoring 34 points on 15-for-21 shooting in two games.

Devin Davis earned the first start of his career last Saturday, scoring nine points and grabbing six rebounds against No. 12 Michigan.

Robinson said next year will be a good one because the team gained confidence this season.

“I think in the beginning we were all dependent on Yogi, but now us stepping up gave us a lot of confidence coming in to next year or the NIT, to play even better as a team,” he said.

Robinson said the team improved its chemistry over the course of the season.

“Obviously not tonight, but as the end of the season started to come, I feel like we’ve all learned how to play together as a team,” he said.

Part of IU’s shortcomings may have been the result of the composition of the team’s roster and its lack of consistent shooters. Excluding Ferrell and Vonleh’s 3-point shooting, the rest of the Hoosiers shot a combined 27.8 percent from beyond the arc this season.

“I feel like we have a lot of people who can get to the rim at will,” Robinson said, adding that the Hoosiers don’t have a lot of players with the confidence to knock down jump shots.

IU’s lack of outside shooting could change this summer when the team’s three 2014 recruits — James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson and Max Hoetzel — arrive on campus. All three players are billed as sharpshooters by scouts.

“I mean, we can be really good with these new recruits coming in, just brings us more shooters to the table,” Robinson said.

The freshman guard said the addition of high-level shooters will give IU better spacing on offense, opening up the floor for its wing players.

“Individually I learned how to attack, attack, always attack and finish at difference levels, and even collapsing the defense and kicking it out,” Robinson said, when asked how he improved over the course of his freshman season. “I’m still working on that.”

Similarly to the individual development of IU’s young players, the team was a work in progress this season. The Hoosiers had four wins against ranked opponents but only had one winning streak longer than two games.

After the game, Vonleh said that after the first few games of Big Ten play, he thought they were going to finish at least among the top three teams in the Big Ten.

“But we lost a lot of close games,” he said. “We were up in a lot of the games, but in the second half we would get into a drought and we would end up losing.”

If Vonleh returns to IU and the team’s young shooters develop, the Hoosiers have the pieces in place to be among the top Big Ten teams next season and potentially make an NCAA Tournament run.

Hoosiers to compete in Big Ten Tourney

IU is in control of its own destiny.

After finishing the regular season with a 17-14 record and an eighth-place finish in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers only have one way to punch their ticket to the big dance — winning the Big Ten Tournament.

IU’s first-round matchup is against Illinois (18-13, 7-11) at noon today in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Fighting Illini enter the tournament having won four of its past five games, including road victories against then-No. 18 Michigan State and then-No. 24 Iowa.

During Monday’s Big Ten Coaches Teleconference, IU Coach Tom Crean said Illinois has played great basketball during the last month, with the exception of its 31-point loss to Michigan.

“I don’t think there’s any question that they are playing with excellent confidence,” Crean said, adding that the Illini are playing with tremendous energy and at a high level on defense. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us at any point in time with anybody in this league. But certainly going into this game, we have great respect for what they are doing and how they are progressing.”

Illinois’ road game against Penn State on Feb. 9 was the team’s turning point, according to Crean.

After an eight-game skid during the heart of the regular season, Illinois Coach John Groce changed his starting lineup in State College, Pa.

He moved graduate student Jon Ekey and redshirt senior Joseph Bertrand to the bench. Freshmen Kendrick Nunn and Malcolm Hill were promoted to the Illini’s starting five.

Illinois finished 5-3 down the stretch in conference play, and Nunn has been a catalyst in his new role.

He scored 95 points during the team’s first 23 games of the season. The 6-foot-3 guard poured in a season-high 19 points against the Nittany Lions and has averaged 12.1 points per game since becoming a starter.

“Kendrick Nunn, with more minutes, provides just a little bit more explosiveness to their game that creates things for other people,” Crean said. “The way he plays is he is a very, very high-energy type of player and a lot of similarities, in my mind, to Victor Oladipo.”

While Nunn is a key contributor, he is just one of Illinois’ weapons.

Redshirt junior Rayvonte Rice scored 49 points in his two games against IU this season.

Crean said the Hoosiers have to improve their defense against Rice in Indianapolis.

“We have to do a much better job against him, but at the same time, they put 3-point shooters on the court,” he said. “They are playing some young guys now that have the benefit of playing with the older guys, the fifth-year guys or the fourth-year guys who have been through it, and they’ve been able to blend in.”

The winner of Thursday’s game gets the opportunity to face Michigan, the Big Ten regular season champion, on Friday.

However, IU remains focused on the next game on its schedule. Crean said the Hoosiers have to be locked in to what’s in front of them.

“The most important thing is that you don’t ever look ahead,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter what team you have going in. If you look ahead to day two, you could be done on day one.”

Hoosiers look to end two-game losing streak

Twenty six days after facing off in an overtime thriller in Champaign, Ill., Indiana and Illinois will meet for round two at 3 p.m. Sunday at Assembly Hall.

The Fighting Illini defeated the Hoosiers 83-80 in their last meeting but both teams have since found themselves in the same place—toward the bottom of the Big Ten standings.

Illinois (13-7, 2-5) is searching for its first road win since Nov. 26. It suffered defeats at Georgia Tech, then-No. 4 Wisconsin, Northwestern and No. 17 Ohio State this season.

The Fighting Illini are in the midst of as tough a five-game stretch in conference play as any in the country this season. They were routed at home by then-No. 4 Michigan State on Saturday and they lost at No. 17 Ohio State Thursday. After facing IU, Illinois will return home for games against No. 10 Iowa and No. 9 Wisconsin in the first week of February.

The Hoosiers are looking to prevent a three-game skid, after suffering single-digit losses to Northwestern and No. 3 Michigan State in the week following their upset of then-No. 3 Wisconsin.

Sunday’s matchup between IU and Illinois could come down to which team’s star guard can make more shots down the stretch.

IU sophomore Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell (17.5 points per game) and Illinois redshirt junior Rayvonte Rice (16.6 points per game) are two of the top scorers in the Big Ten. They combined for 59 points on New Year’s Eve.

Both players have struggled recently to make a high percentage of their shots. Since they squared off on Dec. 31, Ferrell has made 25-of-75 shots (33.3 percent) and Rice has connected on 20-of-71 attempts from the field (28.2 percent).

With one-third of Big Ten play in the rearview mirror, IU’s rotation is still undergoing changes.

With senior forward Will Sheehey sidelined with an injury for IU’s game against Michigan State, freshman guard Stanford Robinson and redshirt sophomore forward Austin Etherington started for the first time this season. Additionally, sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell saw the court for the first time since Jan. 4.

Senior walk-on forward Jeff Howard has seen a spike in his minutes in conference play. Howard is averaging 5.7 minutes per game this season, but he played a combined 33 minutes in the Hoosiers’ most recent two contests.

The Hoosiers lost to Northwestern and Michigan State after having second half leads in both games.

After the Hoosiers lost to the Spartans, IU Coach Tom Crean said his team has to continue finishing at the rim.

“For the most part, we just didn’t make shots that we were making around the rim, not necessarily layups, but just stuff that was right there,” he said. “We were getting where we wanted but we gotta finish.”

Crean said IU missed 14 layups in its home loss to Northwestern.

On the season, IU’s shooting percentage on attempts near the basket is worse than the national average, according to hoop-math.com. The Hoosiers have made 54.9 percent of their field goal attempts at the rim, which is six percent lower than the Division I average.

“If we’d finish better the other day, we don’t lose the Northwestern game, in all honesty,” he said.

While IU has squandered consecutive opportunities to earn Big Ten victories, Crean acknowledges that there is a lot of basketball to be played this season.

“The bottom line for us is to continue to improve, understand that two-thirds of the Big Ten season is still in front of us…and get ready for the next one,” he said. “This league obviously shows when you got some of the scores and games that you have in the first couple of weeks…just how powerful it is. And we’ve been right in the middle of that and we want to continue to be.”

IU defense steps up against Illinois

Despite Illinois’ accumulation of more than one-third of a mile of total offense, IU’s defense came through in the clutch to give the Hoosiers a 52-35 victory at home Saturday.

The Fighting Illini (3-6, 0-5) recorded a season-high 612 total yards against the Hoosiers (4-5, 2-3), but they were held scoreless for the final 12 minutes and 41 seconds of the game.

“As long as the offense is scoring and putting up points, as long as we come out with Ws, the yards are something that we don’t worry about as much,” redshirt senior safety Greg Heban said.

Heban said in recent weeks the Hoosiers have emphasized playing well at the end of games.

“That’s something that we didn’t do as well last year, finishing the games, finishing up the season,” he said.

On Saturday night the Hoosiers stonewalled Illinois’ offense when it mattered the most — in the fourth quarter.

IU’s defense ended the game with two stops on fourth-and-10 and an interception in the end zone.

Each of the Hoosiers’ scoring drives in the fourth quarter was followed by a stop on defense.

“We just kept feeding off each other’s energy,” freshman defensive tackle Darius Latham said. “Offense would score, we know we gotta try to put the game up.”

IU Coach Kevin Wilson said the defense and the offense need to feed off each other more often instead of there being “one side hot and one side cold,” something that took the Hoosiers three quarters to accomplish.

“We had a few busted coverages and some missed tackles that led to easy Illinois scores,” Wilson said. “We just haven’t been consistent in our execution or fundamentals to play really good all the time.”

The Hoosiers’ defense allowed 206 yards in the first quarter.

Illinois redshirt senior Steve Hull, a former safety who made the switch to wide receiver this season, had nine receptions for 224 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns, all of which were career highs.

Part of IU’s defensive struggles was a result of the Hoosiers’ sideline doubling as an infirmary on Saturday.

Junior Forisse “Flo” Hardin, starting weakside linebacker, was out for the game with a rib injury.

At one point three of IU’s starters in its secondary — Heban, junior cornerback Tim Bennett and junior safety Mark Murphy — were sidelined due to injuries.

Freshman Clyde Newton made his first career start in place of the injured Hardin, and he recorded a game-high 11 tackles.

“He’s been improving a lot throughout the year, and it was just good to see him come out and play the way he played,” Heban said. “We have a lot of faith in him, and he stepped up in Flo’s spot.”

Freshman safety Antonio Allen suffered a season-ending knee injury in his first career start against Michigan, which meant redshirt juniors Brandon Grubbe, an IU walk-on who played running back for Butler in 2011, and Jake Zupancic, had to fill in for the Hoosiers at both safety positions.

“They just came in and did a really good job,” Heban said. “It was just a great team win. It shows that even our backups are coming together, and it’s a good sign of a good team.”

Click here to read this article on the Indiana Daily Student website. 

Post-Game Video on IU’s 52-35 Win against Illinois

IU Coach Kevin Wilson and several players talked to the media after the Hoosiers’ 52-35 win against Illinois.

Click here to view this post on the Indiana Daily Student’s Hoosier Hype blog.

IU snaps 3-game skid, beats Illinois 52-35

IU ended its three-game losing streak Saturday at Memorial Stadium by defeating Illinois (3-6, 0-5) 52-35 after ending the game by scoring 17 unanswered points.

The Fighting Illini tied the game at 35 when running back Josh Ferguson fumbled the ball into the end zone and his teammate, offensive lineman Corey Lewis, fell on the ball for a touchdown.

Despite allowing 612 total yards to Illinois, the Hoosiers’ defense ended the game with by forcing two turnovers on downs and an interception.

IU’s offense, fueled by a pair of 100-yard rushers in its backfield, scored quickly to take the lead and keep its foot on the gas.

Junior Cody Latimer celebrates with teamates after scoring just before the end of the first half, during IU's victory over Illinois on Saturday evening at Memorial Stadium. (Clayton Moore, IDS)
Junior Cody Latimer celebrates with teamates after scoring just before the end of the first half, during IU’s victory over Illinois on Saturday evening at Memorial Stadium.
(Clayton Moore, IDS)

After Lewis’ touchdown, IU sophomore running back Tevin Coleman ran for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the ensuing drive to give the Hoosiers a seven-point lead. On IU’s next possession, senior running back Stephen Houston rushed twice for 37 yards and a score.

Coleman finished the game with 215 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Houston rushed 17 times for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It is the second game in which the Hoosiers had two running backs with more than 100 yards on the ground.

IU’s offense was balanced. Nate Sudfeld was 20-of-27 for 267 yards and three touchdowns.

Junior wide receiver Cody Latimer was on the receiving end of all three touchdowns, tying his career high. Latimer had 11 receptions for 189 yards, which were career bests.

Despite numerous injuries on both sides of the ball that depleted IU’s starting lineup, the Hoosiers were able to double their win total in the Big Ten.

IU will face No. 24 Wisconsin in Madison, Wisc. on Saturday at noon. The Hoosiers will need to win two of their final three games to earn bowl eligibility.

Click here to read this report on the Indiana Daily Student website.