BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell was weary of all the missed shots, the turnovers and Indiana’s inability to seize control Sunday, Jan. 26.
So the sophomore point guard got aggressive.
He scored nine points in a key 12-0 second-half run, then made six free throws in the final 66 seconds to help the Hoosiers end a two-game losing streak with a 56-46 win over Illinois.
“Yogi in the first half managed the game at a high level,” coach Tom Crean said. “In the second half, he was able to take it over at certain points, and that’s what you want.”
It was no easy task for Ferrell, who scored a career high 30 points in his first matchup with the Fighting Illini and came into the game as the Big Ten’s top scorer in conference play.
This time, Ferrell and freshman Noah Vonleh were the prime targets of Illinois’ defense. Vonleh finished with only four points and 14 rebounds while Ferrell managed only two shots in the first half, missing both, and went into the second half with just two points.
Over the final 20 minutes, it was a different story.
Ferrell repeatedly drove to the basket, found open teammates and made big play after big play. He finished with 17 points, five assists, four rebounds and one steal. What changed?
“I was picking my spots a little better,” Ferrell said. “They kind of boxed me in a little bit (in the first half), so I’d drive and pretty much kick and let those guys feed.”
The Hoosiers (13-7, 3-4 Big Ten) needed everything Ferrell and his teammates could muster in a battle between two teams scrapping to get back into the Big Ten hunt.
Since upsetting previously unbeaten Wisconsin on Jan. 14, the Hoosiers had lost at home to Northwestern and at No. 3 Michigan State.
Illinois’ resume was even worse.
After opening the conference season with back-to-back wins, the Fighting Illini (13-8, 2-6) have lost six straight — the longest skid coach John Groce has endured since dropping seven in a row when he was on North Carolina State’s staff in 2000.
With so much at stake, Crean expected the game to get ugly. It did.
Illinois shot just 33.3 percent from the field, got only four offensive rebounds and only two points on fast breaks. Rayvonte Rice had 20 points and four rebounds, the only Illini player to score in double figures. And it marked the second time this month that Illinois failed to score 50 points.
“We have to score. We have to make a few more plays. We have to make more shots,” Groce said. “As coaches, we’ve got to look at what type of quality of shot we get. I think there’s been some games where we’ve had some good ones. I thought our quality of shot tonight was not great late.”
The result: Indiana wound up with a split in the season series and Illinois failed to take its first lead in the all-time series since 1975.
It wasn’t just tough for the Illini.
Indiana shot 40.8 percent and had 13 turnovers. But the difference was Ferrell’s ability to create his own shots or draw defenders away to open up his teammates.
Indiana, which led almost the entire first half, suddenly found itself trailing 29-28 after the Illini scrambled to gain control of a loose ball and swung the ball to a wide open Jon Ekey for a 3-pointer with 17:37 left.
That’s when the Ferrell kicked his game into high gear.
He hit a short runner, a 17-foot jumper and split a double team with a nifty crossover move to score on a layup. After that, he drove and dished to Will Sheehey for an open 3, and ended the 12-0 run with his own 3 to give Indiana its biggest lead of the game, 40-29, with 12:58 to go.
“I thought him getting to the foul line was huge,” Groce said. “I thought he made a big 3 against our zone. We’ve got to do a better job of defending without fouling. It’s easier said than done with him because he puts a lot of pressure on you probing with the dribble, and he’s a really good player.”
Illinois wasn’t close to being finished.
The Illini went on a 10-2 run to get within 42-39, but the Hoosiers answered with six straight and kept Illinois at arm’s length the rest of the way.
Fittingly, it was Ferrell who sealed it by making six straight free throws and poking the ball away on Illinois’ final possession of the game.
“We earned that victory today,” Crean said. “Illinois is a very good team and these games come down to just a couple of possessions.”