BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Illinois coach Bruce Weber spent halftime explaining what it would take to knock out Indiana.
The words didn’t exactly resonate inside the locker room.
After the 22nd-ranked Fighting Illini shot 63 percent in the first half and built a 21-point lead, Illinois spent the second half fending off Indiana’s feisty rally and held on for a 65-52 victory Sunday.
“No matter what you say at halftime, they’re not going to have the same edge,” Weber said. “That’s where you’ve got to be smart. You don’t hit the grand slam when no one’s on base.”
Weber enjoyed watching the first half when Illinois (21-5, 9-4 Big Ten) was incredibly efficient.
His team was focused, defended and repeatedly found open shooters.
The Illini turned that combination into a 17-of-27 shooting performance that included 14 assists, something Weber would have trouble replicating at practice.
But with a 17-point halftime lead and things coming so easily, his players fell into the trap. Instead of sharing the ball and playing its usual style, Illinois desperately wanted to deliver the blow that would finally make the Hoosiers (6-18, 1-11) relent.
It never happened on a day Indiana was trying to avoid setting one school record, 18 losses in a season, and tying another with 11 league losses. And it nearly cost the Illini, who have won three straight and 10 of 14 in the series.
“They changed defenses a little bit, didn’t guard Chester (Frazier) and Chester got a little shook,” Weber said. “Maybe you lose that mental edge a little bit.”
Indiana had all kinds of problems in the first half, most notably with Illinois’ post players, Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale. Both finished with 16 points, and Davis added 10 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season.
The Hoosiers were more short-handed than usual.
Leading scorer Devan Dumes missed his second straight game since being suspended by coach Tom Crean a week ago for throwing flagrant elbows at Michigan State. Crean has been consulting with athletic director Fred Glass and conference commissioner Jim Delany to determine the length of Dumes’ punishment. Dumes missed Tuesday’s game at Minnesota but Crean would not say whether Dumes will play Thursday against Wisconsin.
Illinois took advantage quickly.
It scored seven straight points to build a 17-7 lead, which the Illini extended to as much as 36-15 with 2:06 to go in the half.
For a while, it looked like Illinois was headed to a rout in this passionate border state rivalry that had all the trimmings Sunday.
Fans chanted “Shut Up Weber” several times during Indiana’s comeback. Illinois guard Calvin Brock drew a technical foul after celebrating a one-handed dunk of a rebound in the second half.
But Indiana kept fighting.
“The bottom line is that these guys knew we had not competed up at Illinois, and certainly the first half was showing signs of that,” Crean said. “I’d like to see how we play when we don’t give a team that kind of lead to fall back on.”
So after going 6-of-22 from the field in the first half, Indiana played its game.
Matt Roth, who had 13 points, and Story, who had nine, started making shots and drawing fouls as the Hoosiers steadily chipped away at the lead.
The Hoosiers used an 11-4 spurt to get within 46-34 with 13:31 to go and when Kyle Taber, Indiana’s only senior, posted up for a layup with 7:38 left, Indiana trailed 54-46. Seventy seconds later, Malik Story grabbed a defensive rebound, dribbled past four Illinois defenders and put in a layup to make it 54-48.
Frazier answered with a 3-pointer for Illinois and the Illini outscored Indiana 11-4 in the final five minutes to finally seal it.
“The second half, we kind of relaxed, we didn’t take a lot of shots we usually take,” Davis said. “But like I said, we took their punch and we won the game.”