BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – Defeating a ranked team from Ohio State was the first indication that things were headed in the right direction for the Indiana University men’s basketball team.
Beating Purdue, a Top 10 team, inspired the students to storm the court at the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
But what about beating Illinois, the Big Ten’s first team?
What if you found a way to control the mammoth Kofi Cockburn, the league’s best player?
No. Not close. Not at all.
“We just didn’t have much going for us in the second half,” IU coach Mike Woodson said. “They put up a solid 40-minute ball game and we put up a 20-minute ball game.”
Indiana wasn’t ready for that moment Saturday at home. Leading 8 in the first half, the Hoosiers offense sagged miserably in the second half as they were overwhelmed by No. 18 Illinois, 74-57.
The Illini showed the Hoosiers that they could play the modern college game in a way that the Hoosiers still aren’t prepared or equipped to do so consistently.
Display an overwhelming pure center – the 7-foot, 285-pound Kofi Cockburn – on the block. Keep throwing the ball to him until the defense is forced to send in one or three more defenders to slow him down.
When that happens, respond in today’s game motto: surround him with confident, accurate three-point shooters. The Illini had 10 long shots, including six in a row in the second half. Indiana has only made 3, missing 8 of its last 9.
Illinois was too strong in the post and too fast and efficient on the perimeter. There’s a reason four of the first five commitments Woodson has made in the 2022 and 2023 recruiting classes are guards and wings.
“The three-point shot eluded us again tonight,” Woodson said.
IU was outscored 40-21 in the second half. In fact, with about 5 minutes left, after a streak where Illinois outscored the Hoosiers 17-5, Woodson retired all five starters.
“I didn’t think they were playing well,” Woodson said. “That’s why I took them off.”
They weren’t. None of them, really.
Miller Kopp transferred from Northwestern to Indiana due to his ability to shoot from a distance. Kopp has started every game this season. He left no fingerprints in Saturday’s game. In 16 minutes, Kopp has not fired a shot or a free throw.
“We’re not telling him not to shoot,” Woodson said. “You know, and again, defensively, they know he can shoot and they’re not going to leave him. So it forces somebody else to shoot.”
The box score listed IU point guard Xavier Johnson as IU’s second leading scorer with 11 points. That didn’t dazzle Woodson, who sat Johnson down for the final 4 1/2 minutes.
“I can’t tell you a game we called tonight unless I called it,” Woodson said. “You know, and I mean, he had kind of turned the corner on that. But our attack, we struggled tonight because we never got into anything.”
At this point in any story about Indiana basketball this season, most of the words are focused on IU’s signature player Trayce Jackson-Davis, an 18.3-point average guy and 8, 5 rebounds.
Nothing came easy for Jackson-Davis, who sat out the final 16 minutes of the first half after making the unnecessarily risky move to foul an Illinois guard 18 feet from the basket .
When he returned in the second half, he struggled with Cockburn’s size and mass. Jackson-Davis finished with as many turnovers (3) as baskets on an afternoon when he scored 6 points. He had nothing easy at the rim. He never reached the foul line.
In his last three games against Cockburn, Jackson-Davis is 12 of 40, averaging 12 points.
Cockburn, meanwhile, had 17 points and 8 boards, making his way for short bank shots, hooks or dunks.
“He’s a big body, hard to move,” said IU forward Race Thompson, the only IU player available to speak to the media. “He’s heavy. He’s strong. You have to give him respect.”
The last time Jackson-Davis had early foul trouble, backup point guard Rob Phinisee saved Indiana by scoring 20 points off the bench against Purdue.
No Phinisee on Saturday. No Phinisee for several weeks. He took to the field on a scooter with his left foot wrapped in a boot to protect a severe case of plantar fasciitis.
IU didn’t have the offensive firepower to respond. Race Thompson (13) and Xavier Johnson (12) were the only double-digit IU players.
The Hoosiers will play their next two games on the road – at Northwestern on Tuesday and at Michigan State on Saturday. They will return home to play in Wisconsin on February 15.
Indiana slipped to 16-6 overall and 7-5 in the Big Ten with eight championship games remaining. The Hoosiers have failed to win three straight conference games since 2019. They went from No. 24 to No. 32 nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s IT formula.
“We have to go to Northwestern,” Thompson said.
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