Cody Zeller had 24 points and 9 rebounds as Indiana beat Illinois, 80-64, in the Big Ten Tournament Friday.
CHICAGO (WDRB) – This time there was no fussing in the handshake line. No talk about cutting down nets. Not a word about flopping. Nothing for the national pundits to howl about with Indiana, Tom Crean, Cody Zeller or Victor Oladipo.
Unless you simply want to howl about the way Indiana played basketball. No arguing, no controversy. Just Indiana dominance.
"That was the best defense they've played all year," ESPN analyst Dan Dakich said. "They made it hard for Illinois to do anything."
The Hoosiers squeezed, dogged, chased and pursued Illinois all the way to Joliet. They beat the Illini, 80-64. They got ahead and stayed ahead. They got in the Illini's grill and stayed there. They looked like a team that has come to Chicago to win the Big Ten Tournament – and winning the Big Ten Tournament is something Indiana has never achieved.
"We moved the ball on offense," said Indiana junior Will Sheehey. "We played tough defense. We took away what they wanted and they couldn't stop us on our end. We played very well. We want to win this tournament."
Win this tournament.
Sounds so easy. But in 15 seasons it has never happened for Indiana.
Winning this tournament will require two more victories from the Hoosiers. Opportunity number two comes Saturday when Indiana plays Wisconsin in the United Center in the Big Ten semifinals. The Badgers beat Michigan Friday.
Nothing could make the ticket scalpers happier. The Badgers are the only Big Ten team IU has not beaten this season. They're also the team that knocked the Hoosiers out of this tournament last season. The Badgers have won 11 straight against Indiana.
Of course, Illinois was a payback game, too. Illinois beat Indiana, 74-72, the first time the teams played. You've seen the replay. The Hoosiers gave up a layup off an inbounds pass on the game's final play.
In that game, Indiana led 62-52 with 7 ½ minutes to play. On Friday, with 7 ½ minutes to play, Indiana led the Illini 60-52.
"We were in better shape (here) than the game at home," Illinois coach John Groce said.
Not for long.
There was no Illinois rally this time. There was an emphatic Indiana closeout. They dominated the Illini on the glass (plus 12) and forced Brandon Phillips and D. J. Richardson to miss 19 of 23 shots. They showed the Illini that the biggest improvement this Indiana team has made is on defense. The Illini shot less than 35 percent.
Illinois had no answer for Cody Zeller, who ran the court like Anthony Davis and dropped 24 points and nine rebounds on the Illini. Zeller made one play that was the best play in this tournament.
Zeller is 7 feet. Paul is Illinois' best playmaker. Yet, Zeller took the ball away from him as if it was a sandwich in the pre-game meal. Then he took his prize and raced downcourt for a dunk.
"Fantastic," Sheehey said. "That's something you don't see many 7-footers do. A lot of people take it for granted because they expect it all the time from him. We take it for granted as well."
Victor Oladipo made The Sporting News proud. Groce said that Oladipo is the best perimeter defender in college basketball. The Sporting News agrees, naming Oladipo its national player of the year. He had several player of the year moments, punctuated by 12 points, 11 rebounds and a Game Over 360-dunk.
At game's end, Oladipo's teammates were debating the quality of his dunk. Jordan Hulls said "10." Remy Abell said nearly a 10. Sheehey would not budge past an "8."
"You should see what Vic can do," Sheehey said. "He can go better than that. He'll do between-the-legs stuff, too."
"No, that's not my best one," Oladipo said.
Hulls did not make a basket, but had more assists (seven) than the entire Illinois team (six).
Christian Watford made a pair of threes, Yogi Ferrell had a dozen points and Will Sheehey had 11 points off the bench. Groce was impressed.
"It's an unbelievable luxury to have when you have that type of paint attack (Zeller), and you have guys that demand double teams and demand the attention of perimeter defenders," Groce said. "It really opens up some things."
Do not forget Abell, the sophomore from Eastern High School. Crean knows that Abell will have to give the Hoosiers about 10 good minutes per game. He scored five points with three rebounds and two assists.
"Remy's always been that spark off the bench for us," Sheehey said. "He's just got to keep that confidence that he knows he can come in and play."
Abell came in and played Friday. So did all of his teammates.