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No. 18 Indiana blows past Illinois in second half

By Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 26, 2016 at 12:53 AM

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Playing on one of its jinx courts, No. 18 Indiana went into halftime trailing an Illinois team that it routed in the teams' first meeting.

The Hoosiers pulled a 180 in the second half, though, turning a potential upset into their second blowout of the Fighting Illini.

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Point guard Yogi Ferrell scored 19 of his team-high 27 points after halftime as Indiana erupted for a 74-47 decision Thursday night at State Farm Center, assuring that it will enter the regular season's final week in control of the Big Ten Conference.

Upping their record to 23-6 overall, 13-3 in the conference, the Hoosiers lead their closest pursuers, Iowa and Maryland, by 1 1/2 games. They can eliminate Iowa from the race Tuesday night in Iowa City before hosting Maryland on March 6.

And if Ferrell keeps playing as he did in the second half, Indiana can play with anyone in the country. Hitting 3-pointers, driving to the rack and setting up teammates while playing tough on-ball defense, the 6-foot senior made another impressive case to be Big Ten Player of the Year.

"I hope that people see how valuable he is, not only in this league, but nationally," Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. "He brings a lot of confidence to this team. You can't argue with the numbers, you can't argue with the record, and you can't argue with the performance he's put forth."

Ferrell, who is two assists away from being the second player in conference history with 1,800 points, 400 rebounds and 600 assists in a career, drilled five of six 3-point attempts after halftime, helping silence a crowd of 12,857 that was loud when Illinois (12-16, 4-11) took a 28-27 edge into intermission.

Ferrell finished with five assists and five rebounds, but what impressed Illini coach John Groce more than the raw numbers were the intangibles.

"He was an absolute monster on both ends of the floor," Groce said. "He gets notoriety for what he does on the offensive end, but he's a two-way player. He's disruptive on defense, and you can see him absolutely will his team to victory."

Before Ferrell shot Illinois off its floor, freshman center Thomas Bryant scored Indiana's first seven second-half points. With Crean demanding the Hoosiers look inside after going 3-for-15 on 3-pointers in the first half, Bryant converted on a post-up, sank two free throws and then hit a trey with the shot clock winding down for a 34-28 lead.

Like the rest of Indiana's players, Bryant takes his cue from the teammate who helped guys like Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller rebuild a broken program.

"He's been here before," Bryant said. "Those were guys he looked up to, and now he brings it to us. We have the talent, and he tries to bring it out of us each and every day."

The talent simply overpowered the Illini, 103-69 losers to the Hoosiers back in January, as the second half progressed. The lead reached double figures before the first TV timeout, then got as high as 28 in the final two minutes.

Bryant finished with 14 points, hitting all five field goal attempts and going 3-3 at the foul line. Guard Nick Zeisloft added four of Indiana's 13 3-pointers and ended with 14 points.

Freshman guard Jalen Coleman-Lands was Illinois' only double-figure scorer with 21 points, canning five of nine 3-point tries. Illini forward Malcolm Hill, the conference's third-leading scorer at 18.6 points per game, didn't score until the 7:35 mark of the second half and managed a season-low five points.

The Illini sank only seven of 23 field-goal tries after halftime and couldn't help themselves on the boards, where they were pummeled 37-17 for the night and 20-6 in the second half.

It was just the Hoosiers' third win in their past 14 visits to Champaign, and perhaps another sign that they might have what it takes to capture a conference title many felt would land at Maryland or Michigan State.

"I was impressed with the resiliency of our team," Crean said. "Our guys were really locked into understanding (Illinois) is more than a one- or two-man team. We were able to defend them without fouling and rebounded at a high rate."

NOTES: Indiana G Yogi Ferrell broke a school record with his 131st career start, one more than Christian Watford and Calbert Cheaney. ... Illinois F Malcolm Hill is averaging 18.6 points per game, the most by a Fighting Illini player since Brian Cook led the Big Ten in scoring at 20 ppg in 2002-03. ... The Hoosiers are fourth in Division I in field goal shooting at 50.2 percent. They hit 27 of 55 attempts Thursday (49.1 percent).

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