Five takeaways from Indiana’s win over Northwestern

  • 03/12/2015 10:24 pm in

CHICAGO – Indiana advanced to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday night with a 71-56 win over Northwestern at the United Center.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from the win over the Wildcats:

· Indiana played its most complete game in a while: The Hoosiers have struggled since beating Maryland 89-70 back on Jan. 22 and a 4-8 record over its last 12 had this group facing a must-win situation in its postseason opener.

It was fair to wonder how Indiana would respond in a pressure filled situation, but the Hoosiers started strong and never really let off the gas in its most complete effort in over a month. It was the third best defensive performance against a Big Ten team this season (.97 points per possession allowed) and a significant improvement over the first meeting in Evanston when the Wildcats torched IU for 1.25 points per trip.

Indiana’s renewed energy was evident early as it crashed the offensive boards and made things uncomfortable for Northwestern offensively by ramping up the ball pressure, getting into the passing lanes and holding to just 22 first half points. That set the tone for the rest of the evening as Indiana built a lead and was never really challenged from there.

“We moved the ball extremely well, but the pressure of our defense, the energy, the tenacity, all those things were really, really strong,” Tom Crean said. “I’m extremely proud of the coaches and the way that they prepared them and the way these guys and their teammates, the way that they played.”

· James Blackmon Jr. fills the stat sheet: James Blackmon Jr. has been one of the best scorers in the Big Ten all season and his full offensive repertoire was on display against Northwestern as he hit 8 of his 15 shots from the field and added four free throws for a game-high 25 points.

But it wasn’t just the scoring that set Blackmon Jr. apart in this one. He added a career-high seven assists, grabbed six rebounds and had just one turnover. Clearly, the loss last month in Evanston was still on IU’s mind.

“We felt like we owed them one,” Blackmon Jr. said. “We learned a lot from the film, the staff, and we basically knew everything we had to do to win, and we’re just going to try to carry it into tomorrow.”

· Indiana owned the rebounding battle: As he took questions in front of his locker following IU’s win, sophomore Troy Williams didn’t hesitate when he was asked what the difference was on the glass.

“All rebounding and defense is effort,” he explained, succinctly.

In that case, score the effort battle in favor of the Hoosiers. Indiana rebounded 50 percent of its misses as Williams soared through the air for five offensive boards, Blackmon Jr. added four of his own and freshman Emmitt Holt emerged from the bench to grab three. In all, Indiana had 20 offensive rebounds and turned them into 20 second-chance points. Northwestern, meanwhile, had just five offensive boards and three second-chance points.

“Their physicality tonight, I thought, knocked us back in the game, and the proof is in the pudding,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “20 offensive rebounds, points in the paint.”

· Emmitt Holt plays well and could be pivotal moving forward: Indiana’s win came at a price as the Hoosiers lost junior Hanner Mosquera-Perea at the 10:34 mark of the second half when Northwestern’s Alex Olah took a charge and his head collided with Mosquera-Perea’s right knee.

It’s the same knee that forced Mosquera-Perea to miss seven games during the conference schedule and the United Center fell silent when the Colombia native went to the deck.

It’s unclear if Mosquera-Perea will be able to play again this season, but if there was an encouraging sign that IU will be able to overcome the loss, it was the play of Holt, who came off the bench to score eight points and grab four rebounds in 15 minutes.

· Indiana is one step closer to a NCAA tournament bid: This win didn’t take Indiana off the bubble for the NCAA tournament, but a loss would have probably put the Hoosiers in the lock category for the N.I.T. In that sense, it was a must-win and with its back up against the wall, Indiana delivered a much-needed win.

IU’s players didn’t want to talk about whether they feel they’re a NCAA tournament team, but Crean was asked about it in his postgame press conference and offered some extended thoughts.

“Well, I don’t know. You know, I really don’t know, and no one knows. That’s the beauty of it all. I would think when you look at criteria, I would think when you look at what we’ve done with the RPI wins, what we’ve done with the non-conference scheduling and winning some of the games that we did, who you choose to play, I would hope so.

“I think when you win 20 games and you end up winning now the tenth conference game in this league, I know it was 9 and 9 during the league and beat some of the teams that we’ve beaten, I would hope so. We’re getting better. “

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  • Arch Puddington

    Only one takeaway matters: defense. Don’t know where it’s been or how to reproduce it, but it was there tonight to great effect. With it this team gets to the tournament and wins multiple games; without it we get blown out by Maryland and lose early in the NIT.

  • Ben thorne

    Great to see Holt do well. Got himself into good positions for baskets and rebounds. Hold your ground on defense and you got something good!

  • Hoosierkamp

    Man to Man defense. You could see everyone from RJ to Yogi to Zeisloft fighting really really hard through every screen. Great to see. They are in tourney now. Beat MD and keep moving in that 8-9 seed range. I know that makes Sweet 16 almost impossible…. but i would be Ok with winning one tourney game as a 8-9 seed.

  • TomJameson

    I couldn’t agree more Arch. Even though the intensity was there for the whole game, their focus on the game plan was great, and they boxed out great, the defense won the game for them.

  • Ole Man

    NCAA is too strange an animal to guarantee a tournament spot just yet. Don’t jinx them on Friday 13th.

  • SCHoosier

    D is of course the key again tonight..and the match-ups are tough for IU. It’s just a shame that when you look at all the opportunities squandered this season by IU’s poor (and switching )defense that this team isn’t already NCAA qualified. You earn what you get..let’s hope the Hoosiers can earn it tonight.

  • KmanCRK

    This team has so much potential when guys like Troy, Yogi, James and the Heartman are bringing it on both ends of the court. So much fun to watch.

  • IUMIKE1

    No worries, got it covered, I still haven’t changed out of my new lucky IU shirt since I put it on right before the NW game, quickly took my pants, socks and shoes back off this morning and put them on the correct / lucky way once I realized that I hadn’t done that, started brushing my teeth while standing of my left foot then switched to the right foot exactly half way through this morning, ate all the same things in the same order today as I did yesterday, fed the dog the same amount of the same thing and at the same time as yesterday, will be sitting in the same chair as yesterday and of course I’ll have my favorite cold beverage (same lucky brand and in a bottle again of course) in the lucky spot. So, I think I’ve done all I can to negate those factors, but will go over the list one more time before tip. LOL

  • IUMIKE1

    See hammer squarely hit head of nail !

  • MDHoosier

    I said in the post yesterday: pressure D and then drop to man-to-man once in half court. The team should have the same philosophy tonight.