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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 1:00 am

Illini will see improved IU team

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Indiana vs. Illinois

Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday

Records: Indiana (14-12, 7-7 Big Ten), Illinois (12-14, 2-11)

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 1250 AM

Indiana's first matchup against Illinois was arguably the nadir of the Hoosiers' season. 

Indiana lost 73-71 to a Fighting Illini team that had dropped its first eight Big Ten games and six straight overall. The Hoosiers will get a chance to settle that score today at Assembly Hall.

In the first meeting, Indiana led 38-32 at halftime, but the second half turned into a parade of turnovers and missed free throws. The Hoosiers went 16 of 29 from the free-throw line and turned the ball over 11 times in the second half, committing 18 overall.

“They got aggressive,” coach Archie Miller said after the game. “We weren't able to bring the same intensity with the stops (on defense) we had in the first half.”

The Hoosiers (14-12, 7-7 Big Ten) haven't had a problem bringing intensity on defense in their last two games. Indiana routed Rutgers and Minnesota on the strength of its defense, holding the Scarlet Knights and Golden Gophers to 24 percent and 33 percent shooting, respectively.

Indiana will look significantly different than what the Illini (12-14, 2-11) remember from the first matchup. Not only has the team's defense improved, but the Hoosiers are also sharing the ball much better on offense, racking up 35 assists in their past two victories.

The catalyst for the improved ball movement has been sophomore guard Devonte Green. He was the best player on the floor at times against Minnesota, scoring 19 points and adding a season-high seven assists.

“We've been searching for that really all year, in terms of our guard play, which is a high-assist guy that's at least thinking about delivering the ball to other people,” Miller said before the Minnesota game. “I think (Green)'s the one guy who's showed here in the last couple of weeks he has the ability to make guys better.”

If Green has been a catalyst for the offense, then forward Freddie McSwain Jr. has provided the same spark on the defensive end, especially on the glass.

McSwain has started each of the last three games and pulled down a total of 32 rebounds. The 6-foot-6 senior played just 13 minutes and took only one shot the last time Indiana played Illinois.

On defense, McSwain's presence has allowed junior Juwan Morgan to move to power forward rather than play center, a role he had been forced into for weeks after sophomore big man De'Ron Davis was lost for the season with a torn Achilles.

“(I'm) being able to play at my natural position, at the 4,” Morgan said of having McSwain in the lineup. “(I'm) being able to just give help wherever its needed with Freddie because he holds his own every single game.”

dsinn@jg.net