Indiana’s defense delivers knockout punch against Illinois

Indiana guard Josh Newkirk (2) brings the ball upcourt against Illinois in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Bloomington, Ind., on Feb. 14, 2018. Indiana defeated Illinois 78-68. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — Juwan Morgan was one of three Indiana players to score 14 points Wednesday night and he posted his eighth double-double this season to lead the Hoosiers past Illinois 78-68.

The Hoosiers (15-12, 8-7 Big Ten) have won three straight since snapping a four-game losing streak. Morgan also had 10 rebounds, a career-high five blocks, four steals and three assists.

Leron Black finished with 20 points before fouling out and Kipper Nichols added 16 to lead the Fighting Illini. Illinois (12-15, 2-12) has lost four in a row and 10 of 12.

And, as has been the case recently, the Hoosiers relied on a stout defense and a strong closing punch to seal this one.

Indiana first took control with a 14-0 run midway through the first half and still led 35-25 at halftime.

Illinois, which was 1 of 12 on 3-pointers in the first half, adjusted in the second half by repeatedly feeding the ball inside. For a while, it worked perfectly.

The Illini methodically trimmed the deficit, getting within 51-49 with 12:26 left. They could have cut the deficit to one if Kipper Nichols could have completed a three-point play.

Instead, he missed and the Hoosiers countered with an 8-2 spurt to rebuild a 59-51 lead and Robert Johnson’s 3 with 7:24 to go extended the margin to nine.

Illinois never got closer than six again.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The struggles continue. Foul trouble, poor shooting and allowing too many easy baskets were a recipe for disaster. And that’s exactly the Illini got — again.

Indiana: The Hoosiers continue to build momentum as the season winds down. With two winnable road games up next, a strong finish is exactly what Indiana fans hope to see.

KEY STATS

Illinois: Trent Frazier scored 12 points and had five assists. … Black grabbed seven rebounds. … The Illini finished 4 of 19 on 3s, shot 40.7 percent overall and scored a season-low 25 points in the first half. … Illinois was called for 24 fouls and was 20 of 30 on free throws. … The Illini have not won this season when allowing 75 or more points.

Indiana: Johnson and Aljami Durham also scored 14 points each. Justin Smith added 13 and Josh Newkirk had 11. … The Hoosiers shot 64.7 percent from the field in the second half and 59.1 percent for the game. … Devonte Green left midway through the second half with an apparent knee injury and did not return. … The Hoosiers had a 34-23 rebounding advantage and were 20 of 29 from the free-throw line.

UP NEXT

Illinois: Hosts Nebraska on Sunday.

Indiana: Will go for the season sweep Saturday at Iowa.