In the end it was just too much to ask from Illinois.
Coming off a thrilling last-second victory over Minnesota and playing first thing the following morning against the top-ranked team in the country, an Indiana squad bent on revenge after being upset by the Illini in Champaign a little over a month ago...
Yeah, good luck with that.
Yet, despite all the obstacles in their path, the Illini scrapped and clawed and actually kept things competitive much of the game, getting to within 8 points late in the second half before Indiana turned it up a notch down the stretch en route to its 80-64 victory in front of a Hoosier-laden crowd at the United Center.
“If you compete at a high level, you can compete with anybody in the country,” said Illini guard Brandon Paul, who tied Tracy Abrams for the team lead with 16 points. “We came in with the mindset that we can win all these games.
“We went through some rough stretches throughout the game. Once we put two halves together we'll be in a good position; we're going to be a force to reckoned with.”
This one had all the makings of a blowout early on as Illinois struggled to find its shooting touch, both from the paint and beyond and quickly fell behind 10-2 and at one point trailed by as many as 18 points.
Shooting a season-low 25.9 percent from the field and getting outrebounded 26-10 in the opening 20 minutes will do that to a team. Yet, the Illini trailed only 35-21 at half thanks in large part to some solid defense against a relentless Indiana squad.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “Our defense was really, really good in the first half.
“Had they not showed the resiliency and toughness that they did in the first half, we would have been down a lot more.”
Cody Zeller was a force in the middle for the Hoosiers, finishing with 24 points and 9 rebounds. But the Indiana player people will be talking most about after this one will be Victor Oladipo, whose 360-degree dunk provided both the highlight and the dagger.
“I thought about it while I was in the air, so I just kind of turned around while I was in the air,” Oladipo said of his slam. “And no, that's not my best one.”
The quarterfinal loss by the Illini marks the first time they have failed to advance to the semis when the Big Ten Tournament is held in Chicago.
Indiana, on the other hand, moves on to the semis Saturday after perhaps already securing a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament courtesy of Friday's win.
“I would hope that we've done enough,” Hoosiers coach Tom Crean said. “But that remains to be seen.”
The Illini are also in wait-and-see mode until Selection Sunday.
“We've won some tough games; we have come back,” Paul said. “Right now we're just excited for Sunday to see what happens.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.