FINAL SCORE: Indiana 88, Northwestern 80, OT | Box Score
This win did not come easy. When it seemed like the Hoosiers had it locked up in regulation, when if felt like this 11-game losing streak was finally — finally! — going to be over, a couple costly turnovers by Verdell Jones let Northwestern stick around in regulation.
And in OT, there was still that “IU-has-the-lead-but-is-it-enough” feeling up until Tjian and Fink came in to close it out.
But yes: it was a win. An impressive win. A sign that the future — for as bleak as it’s looked the last several weeks — is bright.
Let us count the ways:
1) Great call by coach Tom Crean to start Derek Elston and insert Verdell Jones at the point to start this game. Time and time again Elston proved his worth. He had a terrific dunk to ignite the crowd and nice tip-in for two early, and finished the game with 17 points — a career-high — and eight boards. He just brings an element to the court IU hasn’t had all season; Elston is a high-energy player with a big body that can score in a variety of ways and finish around the hole.
This kid can be a double-double machine for years to come.
And without Jeremiah Rivers at the point to start this game, IU didn’t turn the ball over until the 10:25 mark of the first half. That turnover was committed by, of course, Rivers.
But because the Hoosiers started out so well this afternoon, it gave them the confidence to realize they were not only in the game, but that they could win it. The first ten minutes of bullet-proof play were of the utmost importance.
Now, when the Wildcats went into that half-court trap in the second half, IU did have some turnover problems — espeically down the stretch — which let the Wildcats hang around. But including the OT period, the Hoosiers had 17 turnovers. Clearly, that’s still not too good. But they’ve had more in only 40 minutes of play this season, not 45.
2) Defense leads to offense.
Not only did IU get more opportunities to score at the start of the game because of the lower amount of turnovers, but they were great in their 2-3 zone this afternoon in Assembly Hall. Bobby Capobianco stands out as a guy that was denying entry passes and getting his hands in passing lanes. (He also sacrificed his body and got a timeout as he fought for a loose ball on his back at the end of regulation, which was big.) For the game, IU racked up 10 steals. And they were scoring in transition off the steals — 23 of their points this afternoon came off turnovers.
And yes, again, NW also capitalized off IU’s miscues, as the Wildcats had 21 points off turnovers.
But this is not how it’s gone the last 11 games. IU is the team losing the turnover battle, getting killed in transition. It might have only been two points, but for once, IU flipped the script and became the aggressor. For once, it was the Hoosiers using turnovers to their advantage, not the other way around.
3) Jordan Hulls.
Three after three after three. Eight of them. And they came at the most important times. A career-high 24 points. Putting his body on the court and keeping the ball with IU on a couple occasions. Four assists to three turnovers. Forty-four minutes of play.
When people talk about Jordan Hulls, when they talk about his will to win, his drive, his determination, this is what they’re talking about.
4) The offense as a whole.
So many of the ITH faithful have complained about the woeful assist-to-turnover ratio of late. But IU had 15 assists this afternoon to their 17 turnovers. Sure, it could be better. But 15 assists? This team hasn’t sniffed that in recent games.
IU was able to capitalize on NW’s 1-3-1 zone and lack of athleticism and a dominating big man. It was about getting the ball to the free-throw line and looking for slashers to the rim from the baseline, or drawing a defender to that middle of the zone and kicking out to someone for an open look on the perimeter. And as I’ve previously noted, it was also about getting out on the break and scoring in transition.
IU broke 60 for the first time in a month, and they didn’t need OT to do it. They hit 43.3 percent of their shots from the field, not terrific, but better than they’ve done in most of the past 11 losses. Hulls’ terrific 3-point performance led them to shooting a blistering 43.5 percent from beyond the arc. Their free-throw shooting was also on point, as they hit 26-of-32 for 81.3 percent.
I actually found myself impressed with some crisp passing today. Again, a rarity the last several games.
For one afternoon, on the backs of their freshman, the Hoosiers gutted out their 10th win of the season. The heart, hustle and desire was there. This, my friends, was long overdue.
And a sign of the promise to come.