CHAMPAIGN, Illinois – The areas Indiana targeted for improvement against Northwestern were on display in the first half against Illinois.
Archie Miller wanted his team to take better care of the ball: Indiana only turned the ball over five times. Miller wanted to get some work in some more depth so that Trayce Jackson-Davis and other starters get some more rest: Trey Galloway started and fellow freshmen Anthony Leal and Khristian Lander each played significant minutes. The Indiana coach especially wanted his team to be better on the defensive end, particularly in one-on-one perimeter defense: the Hoosiers responded by holding Illinois, one of the best offensive teams in the country, to 43% shooting. Those improvements have resulted in a better performance overall for the Hoosiers, but they still trail 29-27 at halftime.
Encouragingly, the Hoosiers returned to the defensive intensity that has carried them much of the season and made things difficult for the Fighting Illini most of the way, though there were still a few too many backdoor cuts for layups. Illinois center Kofi Cockburn, who scores nearly 18 points per game, had five in the opening half on just five shots as Trayce Jackson-Davis frustrated him around the rim. Jackson-Davis outplayed his fellow 2019 five-star recruit, especially on the defensive end and would have had a much bigger half had a number of his shots from in close inexplicably rolled off the rim. The Indiana leading scorer was seemingly snake-bitten on offense most of the half, missing his first six field goal attempts, all of which were at least decent looks, before making one. He has eight points, but has mostly made his mark on defense, coming up with five rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
Luckily for Indiana, the Hoosiers have found plenty of offense in the form of sophomore Armaan Franklin. As he has been so often in recent weeks, Franklin was a sparkplug for Indiana, stopping a long scoreless drought with back-to-back 3-pointers and finishing with 11 points on 4 for 6 from the field. He's looking at the basket every time he touches the ball, which keeps defenses honest and Indiana needs more aggressiveness like that from other players. There's too much dribbling without purpose, especially when the Hoosiers are in the halfcourt.
The problem for Indiana has been that no one else besides Jackson-Davis and Franklin has more than two points. The Hoosiers are, as expected, getting out-rebounded significantly, losing the battle on the boards 19-13 and have zero offensive rebounds. The defense has been mostly good, but Leal and Lander are still defensive liabilities. They need time to grow, but Indiana doesn't really have time to wait. The Hoosiers need the freshmen to provide some quality minutes to give their stars a rest. Right now, they're muddling along at best when Jackson-Davis is off the floor. Indiana is shooting 38% overall and is in the game, which is good news, but it will take a more explosive offense to pull this upset, no matter how good the defense plays.