CHICAGO – Indiana wasn’t going to let another game slip away against Illinois.
The top-seeded Hoosiers got a big lead early against the No. 8 seed Illini in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, and IU made sure it finished Illinois off with an 80-64 victory in the United Center.
In the teams’ regular-season meeting Feb. 7, Indiana let a 10-point lead with 4:21 to play evaporate as Illinois rallied for a 74-72 win.
In Friday’s rematch, the Hoosiers (27-5) only let the Illini (22-12) get within eight points of the lead with 8:17 to play after establishing a double-digit advantage, 16-5, with 9:16 to play in the first half.
“Whenever you lose like that, up late in the game and they come back and make big shot after big shot and we break down mentally, obviously, you are going to learn from that,” Indiana guard Jordan Hulls said. “We were a lot better team than we were when we played Illinois the first time.”
The Hoosiers advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament for the first time since 2006. They will play No. 4 seed Wisconsin (22-10), a 68-59 winner over No. 5 seed Michigan (26-7) on Friday, at 1:40 p.m. today.
“Our whole focus was getting ready to play our best basketball (Friday), and hopefully, we play even better basketball (today),” IU coach Tom Crean said. “Never to look ahead and to stay totally locked into the game at hand. I’m excited about the way our guys played. They should be, too.”
There were plenty of things IU could be excited about Friday. The Hoosiers held Illinois to 34.5 percent shooting (20 for 58), won the rebound battle 38-26, got nine steals and scored 40 points in the paint.
“We always come out with the defense being a big emphasis for us,” Zeller said. “We got a lot of deflections. We were making them take bad shots. That limited their offense, which is always a big key for us.”
Zeller finished with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds, and Victor Oladipo had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Oladipo also excited the crowd with his 360-dunk on a breakaway that gave IU a 78-60 lead with 1:37 to play.
“I knew I was going to do something when I caught it, but I don’t know, it was just a last second thought,” Oladipo said. “I thought about it while I was in the air, so I just kind of turned around when I was in the air. And, no, that’s not my best one.”
Christian Watford had 15 points for Indiana, and Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell and Will Sheehey added 12 and 11 points. Sheehey connected on all four of his shots.
Indiana only gave up five points in the first 11:17 as it took an 18-5 lead, and it took a 35-21 lead into halftime.
IU and Illinois traded baskets at the start of the second half, but the Illini could only get their deficit down to 60-52 after D.J. Richardson sank two free throws with 8:17 to play. The Hoosiers responded with an Oladipo layup and a Watford three-pointer to go up 65-52 with 5:31 to play.
Indiana’s lead never dipped into single digits again against Illinois, which got 16 points each from Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams and 10 from Joseph Bertrand.
“We just weren’t able to stop them enough down the stretch,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “Our offense was good enough in the second half; our defense wasn’t.”