Chicago, IL – Cody Zeller scored 24 points to lead five Indiana players in double figures, as the third-ranked Hoosiers pulled away late to earn an 80-64 victory over Illinois in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament.
Christian Watford scored 15 points, while Victor Oladipo and Yogi Ferrell each chipped in 12 for Indiana (27-5), which won the Big Ten regular season title outright for the first time since 1993 but has never won the tournament crown. The top-seeded Hoosiers, who also received 11 points from Will Sheehey, will next play Wisconsin in Saturday's semifinals after the Badgers knocked off Michigan.
"I thought we were very active, especially on the ball screens," Zeller said of his team's defense. "Sometimes, especially for me, it's, we're trying to blow out their screens and I thought we were aggressive overall. We had a lot of deflections, which is always a big key for us. I thought we were just active. The beauty of that is it leads into our offense I thought it really got our offense going."
Tracy Abrams and Brandon Paul each scored 16 points to lead Illinois (22-12), which beat Minnesota in the first round on Thursday to likely seal an NCAA Tournament bid. Paul, who hit the winning shot at the buzzer in the Illini's 51-49 win on Thursday, didn't make a field goal in the second half Friday.
"I felt we came in with the mindset that we can win all these games," Paul said. "We went through some rough stretches throughout the game and I felt like once we put two halves together we'll be in a good position. Sometimes one half our defense might be off or the next half our offense might be off. Once we put two halves together we're going to be a force to recon with."
Illinois handed Indiana one of its four conference losses, taking a 74-72 decision Feb. 7 in Champaign on Tyler Griffey's uncontested layup just before the buzzer.
The Hoosiers, who were No. 1 at the time, made sure this one never got that close.
Indiana never trailed and opened a 10-2 lead just under seven minutes into the contest. The Hoosiers continued to play front-runner and built a 26-9 margin with just under six minutes remaining in the first half before carrying a 35-21 advantage to the break.
The Illini pulled within 10 early in the second half, but couldn't get closer until two free throws from D.J. Richardson made it a 60-52 game with 8:17 to play. The Hoosiers, who had an answer every time Illinois made it a 10-point game earlier in the half, came up empty when Jordan Hulls missed from beyond the arc.
However, the Illini failed to convert on their next two trips before a layup from Oladipo and a three from Watford made it 65-52 with 5 1/2 minutes remaining.
Illinois got only as close as 11 from there and a 13-4 run in the final few minutes gave Indiana its largest lead at 80-60 with a minute to play.
Paul finished 2-for-13 from the field and was 11-of-12 from the free throw line ... Richardson and Griffey each scored nine for the Illini, who shot just 34.5 percent overall ... Indiana shot 54 percent from the field, led by Zeller's 9-for-11 effort ... Zeller also had nine rebounds, while Oladipo had a game-high 11 boards ... Indiana outrebounded Illinois, 38-26 ... The Hoosiers have reached the Big Ten championship game just once, falling to Iowa in 2001.