CHICAGO | Indiana gained a measure a revenge and made a statement at the same time on Friday afternoon.
The top-seeded Hoosiers raced out to a double digit lead and then held off an Illinois rally in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, knocking off the No. 8 Illini 80-64 behind a balanced team effort.
Indiana never trailed against the same Illinois team that shocked the Hoosiers 74-72 in their only regular-season meeting last month.
Indiana will get another chance at revenge this afternoon when the Hoosiers (27-5) take on No. 4 Wisconsin in the first semifinal contest. The Badgers (22-10) used a strong second half to beat No. 5 Michigan 68-59. Wisconsin beat Indiana at Assembly Hall in mid-January.
“I think we have a team that’s answered the bell all year long; responded from tough games,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “Sitting where we’re sitting, the team has been the headline maker.”
Cody Zeller strengthened his candidacy for National Player of the Year with 24 points and nine rebounds, despite not attempting a field goal for the final 16:31 of the contest. The Hoosiers (27-5) outscored Illinois 40-24 in the paint.
“(Zeller) was a load,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “He’s a terrific player. There’s a reason he’s on all those magazine covers to start the preseason.”
While Zeller dominated the first half, Indiana showed its balance after the break as the Hoosiers finished the game with five players in double figures. Victor Oladipo had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, including an electrifying 360-dunk that nearly brought down the United Center.
“It takes our whole team to win,” Oladipo said. “When guys off the bench step up and when Christian (Watford) and Jordan (Hulls) step up, it’s huge for us. Without them, we can’t win.”
The win keeps Indiana in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, perhaps even the top overall seed which would include a path through Indianapolis on the way to a potential Final Four berth. Crean believes that his squad his done enough to warrant one of the top seeds in the tournament.
“I would hope that we have done enough,” Crean said. “I think when you have the league the way that it is and you win it outright the way that we did.
"The only home losses that Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State have are to us and that says a lot because those are three teams that can win a national championship. So I would hope that we have, but that just remains to be seen,” he added.