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Indiana University

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Associated Press photos
Indiana's Cody Zeller dunks during the second half against Illinois.

Zeller helps IU run away from Illini in second half

Associated Press
Indiana’s Christian Watford dunks against Illinois’ Meyers Leonard during the first half of the Hoosiers’ win Thursday in Bloomington. Watford had 18 points for Indiana.

BLOOMINGTON – Meyers Leonard stood near Indiana's basket, dazed.

The 7-foot-1 Illinois center had just collided with Cody Zeller after fouling Indiana's 6-foot-11 forward early in the second half Thursday at Assembly Hall.

Zeller and the Hoosiers would eventually knock out the Illini. Zeller scored 22 points, leading No. 23 Indiana to an 84-71 victory in front of 17,389 fans.

"I think (Zeller) relishes (physical play)," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "I think it gets him going. He's a tough young man. He's mentally tough, he's physically tough. He's getting stronger all the time.

"The more you come at him, the better it is."

Zeller made 12 of 14 free throws. The Hoosiers were 35 of 42 from the foul line.

"We definitely want to get to the foul line," said junior guard Jordan Hulls, who had 15 points and seven assists. "We're a pretty good free-throw shooting team. Those are points that we need."

Zeller's basket, while getting fouled by Leonard, capped a 12-2 Hoosiers' run.

Indiana trailed the Illini 44-42, but then scored 12 of the game's next 14 points.

Zeller started the spurt with a basket. Hulls made a jumper. Hulls answered a dunk by Illinois' Myke Henry by making a three-pointer to give IU a 49-46 lead.

Zeller then scored while getting fouled. He added the free throw to stretch the lead to 52-46. Zeller scored while making contact with Leonard, extending the lead to 54-46 with 15:24 remaining.

The Illini were stunned but didn't go away. Brandon Paul made 1 of 2 free throws to draw Illinois within 57-55 with 10:58 to go. Hulls then made a three-pointer to stretch the lead to 60-55.

IU later used an 11-2 run to build a 73-61 lead. Christian Watford made a three-pointer to give the Hoosiers the 12-point lead with 5:49 to go. Watford finished with 18 points.

"My teammates did a great job of finding me tonight," Watford said.

Victor Oladipo also scored 18 points.

Indiana (19-6, 7-6 Big Ten) maintained the comfortable lead the rest of the way.

"We got better as the game went along, especially on the defensive end," Crean said.

Much of the pregame attention went to the team's two big men, Zeller and Leonard.

And both performed well. Leonard battled foul trouble in the second half and finished with 17 points. He fouled out with 3:09 remaining.

"He's been in foul trouble quite a bit in the Big Ten," Zeller said. "We just wanted to attack him and get the ball inside."

D.J. Richardson led the Illini (16-8, 5-6) with 19 points.

"Our kids played hard, they battled, they kept fighting," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "The start of the second half obviously was a failure, that and the fouls in the first half."

For the second straight game, the Hoosiers were able to pull away late.

"The situation work in practice is paying off," Crean said. "Being in all these different experiences of losing the Nebraska game, the Minnesota game, have come back to help them. We want to come back down and grind it out, especially when we get in the bonus."

Notes: Indiana played its second game without Verdell Jones III. The senior guard is recovering from a shoulder injury. … Kevin "Yogi" Ferrell earned a spot on the West roster for the McDonald's All-American game. Ferrell, out of Park Tudor, was ranked the No. 17 recruit nationally when he signed, according to Rivals.com.

lpope@jg.net

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