No. 14 Indiana trailed for 26:01 of its 40-minute contest against Illinois on Saturday. The Fighting Illini led for the meat of the game, as fans in Assembly Hall were tame throughout.
Despite trailing for most of the afternoon, the Hoosiers prevailed with a 71-68 win over Illinois. The victory gave IU a regular-season sweep over Illinois this season.
What made the difference for Indiana? The play of Miller Kopp.
After scoring only three points and going 1-for-6 from the field against Northwestern, Kopp responded with a 12-point performance against Illinois.
Illinois began the second half on a 10-4 run and led 48-39. When Jalen Hood-Schifino missed a mid-range jump shot for Indiana, the ball trickled out to Kopp at the top of the key. Kopp fired away and drilled a 3-pointer to cut the Illini’s lead back to six. The bucket halted an IU scoring drought of nearly four minutes.
Kopp’s final bucket of the game came with 5:22 left. Trayce Jackson-Davis was double-teamed in the post and found Hood-Schifino up top. Hood-Schifino swung the ball to Trey Galloway in the corner, who drove down the baseline. Galloway found Kopp in the opposite corner, and Kopp made another 3 to tie the game at 59.
Plays like that were available often for Kopp on Saturday. He said that because Illinois chose to pre-rotate when doubling Jackson-Davis, he typically had good looks from the corners.
“[Jackson-Davis] always says to me, ‘Be ready, be ready, be ready,’” Kopp said. “After every timeout, before every timeout, he’s like, ‘Be ready, be ready, be ready.’”
On Saturday, Kopp was ready. All 12 of his points came from beyond the arc, as he canned four of Indiana’s five made 3s.
“I’m so angry if he doesn’t shoot it,” Jackson-Davis, who had 26 points and 12 rebounds, added. “Every time he touches it, I want the ball up. Every single time.”
Illinois didn’t lead by more than a possession for the final six minutes of the game, as the Hoosiers grabbed the lead in the final minute. A Jackson-Davis dunk with six seconds left gave Indiana a 3-point lead. Illinois’ RJ Melendez missed a 3 at the buzzer to seal an IU win.
While it was a strong offensive game by Kopp, his second-half defense proved just as important. Illinois forward Matthew Mayer crushed Indiana in the first half with 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting and 4-for-7 on 3s.
“Miller got an earful,” Indiana head coach Mike Woodson said about the talk he had with Kopp at halftime about guarding Mayer. “Hell, I thought [Mayer] was going to go for a career-high here the way he was playing.”
Mayer, who went scoreless when Indiana beat Illinois on Jan. 19, was held to eight points while shooting 1-for-7 in the second half.
“He got too many good looks in the first half,” Kopp said of Mayer. “From transition, from broken plays, and a couple of my mishaps mentally and not being aware and locked in. [Woodson] just got into me and let me know I had to step up and be more active and aware off the ball.”
Kopp was matched up with Mayer for most of the game and slowed Mayer down in the second half. The Hoosiers don’t have many agile wings, which makes matchups against players like Mayer (6-foot-9) difficult. Kopp managed to hold his own against Mayer, which helped IU hold Illinois to 30 points in the second half.
Saturday’s strong performance for Kopp comes after a difficult Wednesday night at Northwestern. Kopp, a second-year transfer from Northwestern, was berated with chants of “F*** YOU MILLER” at Welsh-Ryan in Indiana’s 64-62 loss to the Wildcats.
In a statement on Thursday, Northwestern athletic director Derrick Gragg said, “During Wednesday's game a line was crossed with repeated, explicit verbal hostility directed at a particular member of the opposing team. The language used violated our collective commitment to sportsmanship and was offensive to many members of our community. We cannot tolerate this type of behavior in our venues.”
Kopp felt disappointed by the remarks and profanity from the Northwestern fanbase.
“That night is over. It wasn't fun, but it is what it is, and it's over,” Kopp said. “I've got an amazing support system around me with teammates, with coaches, with [Indiana athletic director] Scott Dolson, just letting me know that they're with me and behind me and have my back no matter what for as long as I'm here.”
Indiana would not have beaten Illinois without Kopp’s play on both ends. The fifth-year senior continues to play a pivotal role in the Hoosiers’ success, and Saturday he made all the difference.