INDIANAPOLIS — The title defense was short lived.
A Trent Frazier turnover — after a timeout — squandered Illinois’ chance to defend its Big Ten Tournament title. The Hoosiers gave No. 16 Illinois all it could handle, beating the top-seeded Illini, 65-63, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Friday.
“Hats off to Indiana, they were really good,” said head coach Brad Underwood. “Thought that they just kind of hung in there.”
The biggest reason why Illinois (22-9) was even in the game was Coleman Hawkins. Shooting struggles and scoring droughts plagued the Illini, but the near 7-footer made a career-high four triples for Illinois — finishing with a career-high 18 points and adding a pair of steals.
“I felt extremely confident, I’ve been in the gym shooting shots,” said Coleman Hawkins.
After sinking its first two field goals of the game — both threes — Illinois missed its next 11 shots, failing to make a field goal for more than nine minutes. Illinois especially struggled around the rim, going 4-of-14 in attempted layups or dunks in the first half.
“You can’t miss free throws,” Underwood said. “We missed six layups in the first half, I don’t know how many we missed in the second half. You can’t do that and win games.”
By the end of the game, the Illini had missed 22 layups, dunks and free throws. That, mixed with a five-minute field goal drought to end the game, left Illinois stunned as the clock hit zero.
“Layups and free throws,” said Trent Frazier. “I can’t think of another reason that would change the outcome.”
Illinois had to have been pleased to be up at the half, with the shots it was missing. Most of Illinois’ looks in the first half were high percentage looks — so eventually hitting some felt bound to happen. That wasn’t exactly the case.
This game also featured a matchup of two of the conference’s best big men: Kofi Cockburn and Trayce Jackson-Davis. Both players traded baskets throughout the game, but as has been the trend in these battles, Cockburn had the edge. The big man picked up his 16th double-double, scoring a game high 23. But Jackson-Davis got the last laugh, he had 21 points, including three free throws to give Indiana (20-12) the lead late.
The Illini had their chances to recapture the lead in the final minute, but turnovers and a lack of rhythym offensively sqaundered that chance.
“I’m very disappointed in myself turning that ball over down the stretch,” Frazier said. “Coach put the ball in my hands to make a play, and I didn’t do that.”
The Hoosiers are desperate. Currently slated as a team that would barely miss the tournament, but beating Illinois will largely help their tourney hopes.
As for Illinois, is there any benefit in the added rest of an early exit?
“A ton. After winning this last year, we were an exhausted basketball team.”
- Kofi Cockburn (ILL): 23 PTS, 10 REB, 7-8 FT
- Coleman Hawkins (ILL): 18 PTS, 04 REB, 2 STL
- Andre Curbelo (ILL): 05 PTS, 09 REB, 04 AST
- Trayce Jackson-Davis (IND): 20 PTS, 06 REB, 3 AST
- Xavier Johnson (IND): 13 PTS, 06 AST, 04 REB
- Race Thompson (IND): 10 PTS, 09 REB
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
You’re a wizard, Harry.
Goodness gracious Andre Curbelo pic.twitter.com/rjMIwOcB69— Isaac Trotter (@Isaac__Trotter) March 11, 2022
The Illini now wait for Selection Sunday to hear their name called. Illinois is currently slotted to be a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament according to bracketologists.
“Now it’s rest, and then why we play,” Underwood said.