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Illinois can’t close at No. 21 Indiana

The Illini are 4-10.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Illinois’ first conference win last year was over Indiana, and the Illini were close to pulling it off again.

In its first game of 2019, Illinois fell to Indiana (12-2, 3-0) in Bloomington on Thursday night, 73-65. Illinois (4-10, 0-3) has lost its first three Big Ten contests for the second straight season, after dropping December conference matchups versus Nebraska and Ohio State. The Illini lost eight conference games before defeating the Hoosiers on Jan. 24 last season.

In what could’ve been a huge upset on the road, Illinois spoiled it with silly mistakes and way too many shot clock violations. Kudos to the Indiana defense for keeping Illinois out of its rhythm, but the halfcourt offense is virtually nonexistent when leading scorer Trent Frazier takes 35 minutes to get going. He’d finish with just 11 points, six assists, and three rebounds. Giorgi Bezhanishvili settled into a groove, notching 17 points on 8-of-10, but his five turnovers were a killer.

A win against a top-25 team would give hope to a doomed conference season. The Illini put themselves in position to do just that at the midway point, but shot themselves in the foot during the second half.

Illinois raced out to as good of a start as Brad Underwood could’ve dreamt. Despite just two first-half points in eight minutes from Frazier, the Illini established a 25-15 lead over the Hoosiers with eight minutes left in the first period.

But what should’ve been a significant halftime lead was cancelled out by a stretch of turnovers, including multiple shot clock violations. Despite the late issues, Illinois was locked with the Hoosiers at 32 at the break.

Indiana star freshman Romeo Langford showed exactly why he’s on every NBA GM’s draft board, pouring in 13 points for the Hoosiers in the first ten minutes of the second half, ending his night with 28 points and six rebounds. Paired with an excessive drought for the Illini of 10 points over 18 minutes from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second, Illinois was forced to make a late push that wasn’t enough.

TWEET OF THE GAME

FS1 color commentator Bill Rafferty really had no idea how to pronounce Giorgi’s first name. He didn’t even try ‘Bezhanishvili.’ We loved it.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS

If Ayo can get to the basket more often in a half-court set, that bodes well for the Illini.

SOUND SMART

Illinois couldn’t take care of the ball throughout the game and finished with 21 turnovers, including a season-high six shot clock violations.

WHO’S UP NEXT

Illinois continues Big Ten play away from Champaign on Sunday against Northwestern (0-3 Big Ten) in Evanston. Before Thursday, the Illini’s first two conference matches were also on the road (at Nebraska, vs. Ohio State in Chicago).

Tip-off is scheduled for 12 p.m. CT.

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