By Michael Hemmerle
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — “We were expecting to be here and winning it all,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “We had a good feeling going into the tournament.” The top-seeded Illini had history on their side in the quarterfinals of the 2022 Big Ten tournament. Illinois owned a superb 6-2 record in the tournament’s history as the number one seed, and was 10-2 when playing their first game on a Friday.
Illinois (22-9) had earned a share of the regular season title, the first since 2005, the year the Illini advanced to the national championship game. But the hope of a second straight conference tournament title ended here Friday afternoon with a 65-63 loss to ninth-seeded Indiana.
The Illini finished the game making one of their last seven shots, with no field goals in the game’s last 5:04. Miscommunication led to a turnover with 11.5 seconds to go, when a Trent Frazier pass intended for Coleman Hawkins sailed out of bounds.
“I made a bad decision,” Hawkins said. “I’m disappointed in myself. I’m very disappointed in the last turnover.”
The Indiana defense prevented dynamic guard Andre Curbelo from getting settled, limiting the the sophomore to five points on 1-of-7 shooting. The Hoosiers held graduate student Alfonso Plummer, a 41% three-point shooter, six points on 2-for-12 shooting, including 2-for-7 shooting behind the arc.
The inability to hit close shots around the basket hurt the Illini as they missed two dunks and 10 layups. Illinois struggled from the free throw line, shooting a disappointing 65%. Not capitalizing on foul shots and the inability to convert around the basket cost the Illini the game.
“At the end of the day, you can’t miss free throws, and we missed six layups in the first half,” Underwood said. “I don’t know how many we missed in the second, and you can’t do that and win games.”
The disappointment of an unexpected early elimination was soon replaced by the goal of advancing in the NCAA tournament next week.
“We were an exhausted basketball team last year, more mentally than anything, and I think it’s great to push the “refresh” button,” Underwood said. “We came here to win it, we didn’t, but it’s not the end of the world….
“It will be refreshing to get a couple days away and know you’re not going to have to play another Big Ten team,” he said. “I’m tired of this league right now. I’m tired of these guys.”