Tom Crean’s rebuilding project at Indiana turned a corner with a 52-49 signature win over No. 21 Illinois at Assembly Hall Thursday night. It was the first victory over a top-25 team for Crean and the Hoosiers in his three years at Indiana’s helm.
Meanwhile, the loss served as a demolition wrecking ball for Illinois’ season. The Illini have now dropped four of five in Big 10 play.
The game was decided on a spectacular game-changing sequence with 1:18 left to play when Illinois’ 7-foot Mike Tisadale looked to stretch a 49-48 Illini lead on what appeared to be an easy layup. Indiana’s Christian Watford’s thunderous block and rebound resulted in a drive to the bucket on the other end by Hoosier Jordan Hulls, his missed shot was finally tipped in after a scrum at the rim by teammate Tom Pritchard for a 50-49 Hoosier lead.
Tisadale turned the ball over on the next Illini possesion with :16 left and two free throws by Hulls iced the game.
Hulls led Indiana with 18 points, hitting on 4-5 from three-point land as well as scoring eight points in the last seven minutes. Watford added 16 points and his one big blocked shot.
Demetri McCamey, the Illini playmaker, had another off game going 2-11 from the field with five turnovers. Mike Davis led Illinois with 14 points and was the only Illinois player in double figures.
The low scoring nip and tuck game featured multiple lead changes and solid defense by both teams. Illinois was up 32-30 at the half and then things really slowed down as neither team could muster a point in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second half.
Indiana scrambled on defense and came up with all the loose balls, but turned the ball over with errant passes on numerous scoring opportunities.
Illinois’ defense was just as good, but they kept settling for rushed three-point shots and only hit 5 of 20 for the game. Illinois never focused on exploiting their experience on the frontcourt.
Jordan Hulls three-point shot with 7:34 left gave Indiana a 41-39 lead, a couple minutes later Hulls drilled another tres to stretch the lead to 46-42 that ignited the Indiana faithful who could smell an upset.
Brandon Paul broke a tie and gave Illinois a 49-46 lead on a three-pointer with 2;46 left. Christian Watford got the Hoosiers within one, 49-48, with a pair of free throws that set the stage for the game winning tip-in by Pritchard..