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Failure to score, execute down the stretch blows Indiana’s chance at No. 18 Illinois

Indiana’s effort was improved, and the team made adjustments from the Northwestern loss, but No. 18 Illinois’ explosive offense was too much to handle for the Hoosiers down the stretch.

BLOOMINGTON, IN – DECEMBER 26, 2020 – forward Trayce Jackson-Davis #23 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Indiana Hoosiers at State Farm Center in Champaign, IL. Photo By Missy Minear/Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana fell to Illinois on the road, 69-60, Saturday afternoon. The loss is significant, dropping Indiana to 5-4 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten.

Indiana looked much improved from the previous loss to Northwestern, but late-game execution and offensive production in tight games continues to haunt this team.

“We had a couple of really tough plays late,” Indiana coach Archie Miller said. “It’s a game of makes and misses. They made theirs, we didn’t.”

Switching up the starting lineup with Trey Galloway over Rob Phinisee and stretching the bench with freshmen Anthony Leal and Jordan Geronimo more playing time helped the team’s energy and fatigue level, but the Hoosiers struggled to score when it counted.

At the 9:47 mark of the second half, Indiana was in a great spot with Geronimo hitting a big 3-pointer to give the Hoosiers a 49-44 lead.

That lead did not last in the final stretch of the game, though, as Illinois went on a 25-11 scoring run to end it and beat the Hoosiers.

Immediately after that Geronimo 3-pointer, Illinois followed up with a 14-0 run to instantly erase Indiana’s brief grip on the game and forced the Hoosiers into panicking from behind.

The Hoosiers responded from the 14-0 run, keeping it between a four-to-eight-point game in the last few minutes until Illinois closed it out at the free-throw line in the final 1:32.

A combination of missed opportunities, rushed plays and poor shot selection eliminated Indiana’s chance to win it.

“If we make a few of those easy shots that we got it’s a different ball game,” Al Durham said.

In addition to the missed easy looks, Indiana’s loss can be attributed to usual lack of scoring diversification and Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu catching fire in the second half.

The lack of offensive options explains Indiana’s troubles with making a run at the Illini in the final 10 minutes. Rapidly improving guard Armaan Franklin led the way again, with a career-high 23 points and was the go-to option down the stretch, scoring six of Indiana’s final eight points.

Franklin did receive a bit more help with usual with Durham stepping up from his slump, adding nine points, and a few other Hoosiers adding some timely baskets. At the same time, there was only one other Indiana player in double-digits — Trayce Jackson-Davis — who finished with a season-low 11 points on 3-for-13 shooting.

When Franklin and Jackson-Davis are not at their absolute best, the rest of the roster struggles to pick up the slack. Outside of those two and Durham, the five other Hoosiers who found the bottom of the net combined to score just 17 points.

BLOOMINGTON, IN – DECEMBER 26, 2020 – guard Rob Phinisee #10 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini and the Indiana Hoosiers at State Farm Center in Champaign, IL. Photo By Missy Minear/Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana’s defense was great, though, holding Illinois well below its season average of 89.3 points per game. Franklin believes that capitalizing off the defense and getting into transition can help boost the scoring.

“I think our defense needs to translate to our offense more,” Franklin said. “I think when we do that, I think that’s when our scoring droughts will end.”

While Indiana’s defense as a unit was certainly strong, Dosunmu’s star power was stronger and Indiana’s inability to limit him ultimately killed the Hoosiers. The junior guard had 20 of his 30 points in the second half and was 4-for-4 from 3-point range.

Eighteen of his points were in that final, defining 9:47 stretch in the second half. Dosnumu’s explosiveness, paired with everyone besides Franklin struggling for Indiana, was just too much.

“He (Dosunmu) made every big shot to give separation,” Miller said. “When it was a one-possession game he was constantly breaking it open.”

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