No one questioned Indiana Coach Bob Knight's starting lineup tonight. No one accused him of throwing the game.
But the result of tonight's Indiana-Illinois game was much the same as it was 25 days ago, when Knight started four freshman and was accused of not putting his best team on the floor. Tonight, with 16,823 looking on in near silence in Assembly Hall, Illinois crushed the Hoosiers, 66-50.
Illinois, ranked 14th, is 9-5 in the Big Ten (Michigan leads at 11-2) and 21-7 overall. Indiana is 6-7 in the conference and 14-9 in all games and faces the very real possibility of not making the NCAA Tournament.
Tonight, they were blown out of their own building, Illinois building a 32-23 halftime lead and eventually leading by as much as 66-44.
"What people don't realize is that the best game we've played against Illinois in the last three was the last one at Champaign," Knight said. "Tonight, Illinois played as well I've seen them all season."
Knight's controversial lineup in the first game against the Illini produced a 52-41 loss. Knight said then that it was the best defensive effort his team had produced in two years.
Tonight, there was nothing wrong with Indiana's defense. It was the offense that was horrendous. Steve Alford, the dead-eye guard, who must shoot well for the Hoosiers to win, was three of 14 -- missing his last eight shots. Uwe Blab (Indiana's high scorer with 12) was six of nine but had five turnovers and couldn't get the ball in key situations.
At the other end, Illinois got 21 points from guard Bruce Douglas, most of them during the run at the end of the first half that broke open the game.
For 10 minutes, Indiana played well, leading, 17-16. But then the Hoosiers went 10 possessions and almost six minutes without scoring.
Illinois, isolating Douglas against Indiana's smaller guards, finally warmed up and outscored the Hoosiers, 17-6, during the last 10 minutes for the nine-point halftime lead.
Illinois quickly built the lead to 14 (50-36), and the crowd was heading for the exits with five minutes left. After the game, Knight, who makes no secret of his dislike for Illinois Coach Lou Henson, walked straight across the court, ignoring the usual postgame handshake.
"It doesn't bother me a bit," Henson said, smiling. Considering the score, no wonder.