Toughness key to Illinois’ victory over Indiana
Illinois head coach John Groce and Indiana head coach Tom Crean said a few “toughness” plays can be the difference in a close game, and both coaches agreed that Illinois came out on top in Tuesday’s 83-80 overtime contest because of its determination to win 50-50 balls.
“What Illinois does, what they do as well as any team I’ve seen all year, is in order to win, you’ve got to get 70 percent of the 50-50 balls in a game,” Crean said. “It’s a sign of where they are as a team and as a program.”
Crean gave credit to Groce for instilling in the program.
“You watch Illinois, they pride themselves on it; you see it. They play with great toughness and they play with great togetherness,” Crean said. “They’re a very, very hard team to defend. They’re very hard to score against.
“John is one of the best coaches in the country.”
Crean, who took over Indiana in 2008, going 6-25 in his first season before winning the Big Ten championship last season, said he admires the way Groce has built a program.
“I wish we could’ve built it much the same way,” Crean said, adding that Groce has done a great job of bringing in tough players and immediate impact transfers to have success in his first two years.
Groce gave credit to his players, calling them “tough dudes,” but they returned the compliment.
“Coach emphasizes that from the first day everybody got here on campus,” junior Rayvonte Rice said.
Crean said he expects Groce’s success to continue.
“They’re gonna be really good for a long time,” he said.
Freshman Kendrick Nunn didn’t light up the stat sheet, but Groce said the Illini wouldn’t have won without the first-year guard.
Nunn had seven points and made several “toughness plays” for the Illini, including three steals.
“Nunn was unbelievable late in the game,” Groce said.
In addition to Nunn’s production, freshman Maverick Morgan played nine minutes and recorded four points and two rebounds. Morgan played seven of those minutes in the first half, when Egwu was on the bench with two fouls.
When Morgan recorded two fouls, freshman center Austin Colbert came in, though he wasn’t able to provide much relief fouling three times in four minutes of play.
The Illinois men’s basketball team made a season-low two 3-pointers in the win over Indiana.
The Illini didn’t make a 3-pointer until Rice hit one with 5:15 remaining in the second half. Rice hit a second 3-pointer in the second half and went 2-for-6 on the game.
The rest of his teammates, however, went 0-for-11. Center Nnanna Egwu, who came into the game averaging 46 percent on 3-pointers, went 0-for-5 on deep balls, including four wide-open attempts.
Groce said Egwu has “earned the right” to continue to shoot.
Despite the lack of 3-pointers, Illinois was able to have success offensively, something Groce said shows “the evolution of the program.”
“The mindset when you come here to play is everyone is expected to defend and rebound,” Groce said. “No one gets a free pass. It doesn’t matter how good you are on offense.”
Johnathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @jhett93.