Indiana entered Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night a decided underdog against Pittsburgh.
They left with a surprising and convincing 74-64 victory, the most impressive win to date of the Tom Crean era. It was the 200th career victory for the second year coach.
The Hoosiers (4-4) controlled the paint and the pace and led by as many as 18 before fighting off a late Pitt rally in the Jimmy V Classic.
“From the nine minute mark on, they never, ever wavered when it came to how they were talking to each other in the sense of finishing,” Crean said. “It was all about defense. I could have not talked offense those last nine minutes and I think they still would have been fine because they were so locked in to defending.”
Indiana held Pitt to just 31 percent shooting and outscored the Panthers 40-20 in the paint.
Verdell Jones scored 20 points to lead IU and Christian Watford added 18 points, including 10 of 13 from the foul line. Indiana hit 25 of 34 free throws.
The Hoosiers began to pull away near the midway point of the second half. After Pitt cut the lead to 41-37 on a Brad Wanamaker layup, Indiana answered with seven straight points over a four-minute stretch.
The run was capped by a Devan Dumes three-pointer, which gave IU its first double-digit lead with 11:06 remaining. It was Indiana’s only three-pointer in the game.
“We get some incredible teachable moments out of a win,” Crean said. “They needed something to go right, that they can hang their hat on. We needed this.”
Pittsburgh, which out-rebounded Indiana 45-39, was led by a career-high 25 points from Ashton Gibbs. Wanamaker added 18 points.
Pick to Click winner: Jones
Bob Knight in attendance: The Hall of Fame coach worked the pre-game and post-game for ESPN and watched the Hoosiers in-person for the first time since 2000.
Watford on the crowd in the Garden: “I didn’t see many Pitt fans. When I looked around, I saw our fans, Hoosier nation.”
Jones on holding onto the lead: “Leadership really came into it. Devan (Dumes) did a great job, behind the scenes, of calming us down. It was a big game, nationally televised game, we knew that and we really wanted to win. Our hunger really showed.”
Indiana at Madison Square Garden: Indiana moved to 12-8 all-time at MSG. It was IU’s first win in the venue since 1996, when the Hoosiers beat Duke 85-69 in the Preseason NIT.
Jamie Dixon on IU’s performance: “I think they did a good job of taking us off the dribble. They got some scores inside from the big guys. They got to the free-throw line. They get to the free-throw line a lot but they also foul a lot and put guys on the free-throw line. Our goal was to get to the free-throw line. They outscored us by 13 from the free-throw line and they outscored us by 10. When you look at the stats of their opponents, their opponents are out-shooting them at the free-throw line and we didn’t do that tonight. The zone and how they defended early put us in that situation.”