BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Illinois coach Bruce Weber is tired of watching his team self-destruct in close games.
The young players just can't seem to help themselves.
This time, the Fighting Illini committed 30 fouls and frittered away their chance by giving up a late 15-6 run that allowed No. 23 Indiana to pull away for an 84-71 victory Thursday night.
"I've got to try," Weber said when asked if the team is staying positive. "They're playing against a Top 25 team on the road. We played our butt off, we played some good basketball, we've done it all year. We're close, we've just got to see if we can connect it all together."
Clearly, it was another dismal night in what has already been a challenging season. Illinois (16-8, 5-6 Big Ten) has lost five of its last six and now plays three of its next four on the road.
The Illini had nobody to blame but themselves Thursday.
On a night that D.J. Richardson rediscovered his shooting touch, finishing with 19 points, everyone else struggled. Brandon Paul, the Big Ten's No. 9 scorer was just 4 of 11 from the field and finished with 13 points. Sophomore center Meyers Leonard picked up three fouls in the first 7½ minutes of the second half, going to the bench with four fouls. He fouled out with 3:09 to go after scoring 17 points.
Fouls were a common theme Thursday. Three Illini fouled out and Indiana (19-6, 7-6) went 35 of 42 from the free throw line.
"The refs called good fouls, we made some stupid fouls in the first half," Richardson said. "We've got to do a better job attacking the basket. Their guys did a great job of that."
And none of the Hoosiers' took advantage of the Illinois miscues more than Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo.
Zeller made nifty move after nifty move and drew foul after foul. He finished with 22 points, five rebounds and went 5 of 8 from the field and 12 of 14 from the free throw line.
He had plenty of help, too
Oladipo and Christian Watford had 18 points and Jordan Hulls finished with 15 points and seven assists as Indiana moved within one victory of giving coach Tom Crean his first 20-win season since leaving Marquette for the Hoosiers in 2008.
"You have to execute under pressure, that's one of the greatest forms of toughness you can have," Crean said. "But you have to be able to play through contact as well."
But the Illini, as usual, made things tough on Indiana.
For nearly 19 minutes, the teams traded possessions and baskets and from the time Indiana blew a 13-6 lead until early in the second half, neither team led by more than four points.
Indiana finally ended the tug-of-war with a quick 8-0 scoring flurry early in the second half.
Hulls' 3-pointer broke a 46-46 tie. Zeller then drew a foul on a dunk and completed the three-point play to give Indiana a 52-46 lead. After Watford grabbed a loose ball and called time out, Zeller drove in for a layup to make it 54-46 with 15:24 to play.
"We were in the bonus pretty early, so I definitely wanted to attack," Zeller said of the Hoosiers' second-half surge. "Any foul was going to be one or two free throws, so I definitely wanted to be aggressive and get to the free throw line."
Illinois responded with 3s from Paul and Richardson on consecutive possessions. Paul followed that with a layup, then hit 1 of 2 free throws to get the Illini within 57-55 with 10:58 to go.
With Illinois within 62-59, Zeller and Oladipo changed the equation by drawing fouls.
They combined to make 5 of 6 free throws, starting the late 15-6 run that gave Indiana a 77-65 lead with 4:49 to go.
Illinois didn't get closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
"Our guys, they deserved it. It was a hard-fought game and they deserved it because they played hard the entire way," Crean said.
Illinois, in contrast, must still figure out how to correct the continual problems.
"Our kids played hard, they battled, they kept fighting," Weber said. "The start of the second half was obviously a failure, that and the fouls in the first half. We kept saying go to the basket, you're going to go to the free throw line because they had to call it because they were calling it on the other end. We just didn't adjust enough."