THE GOOD: BENDING, NOT BREAKING.
Heck of a win tonight in Happy Valley.
Sure, Penn State was a meek 0-5 in the Big Ten heading into this game, but a young Hoosiers team like this isn’t supposed to get conference road wins, no matter whom the opponent is. And unlike we’ve seen in previous road adventures, IU came out of the gate tonight and controlled the game from the onset. They hit shots early — was that Jeremiah Rivers hitting two jumpers? — didn’t look scared, and played with a swagger and confidence we’ve yet to see outside of Assembly Hall in conference play.
It was really just the perfect set of circumstances for the Hoosiers tonight: they came off arguably their biggest win of the year against Minnesota on Sunday, and their next game just happened to be against a team that had yet to win in conference play. They had confidence, and showed it tonight.
But what was even more impressive to me this evening was not the double-digit lead IU was able to mount in the first half thanks to a hot start, it was withstanding Penn State’s run in the second half, especially when you factor in Jeremiah Rivers was basically a non-factor with his foul trouble. (Sidenote: how great is Rivers at that chase-down block on layups? Love that.) When the score got to 40-40 with 13:44 to play, and the momentum shifted in the Nittany Lions’ favor, IU held court.
Watford came down, made a nice move in the post and scored. Penn State came up empty, then Verdell Jones — who along with Devan Dumes were big keys on the offensive end — hit a three and suddenly IU was up 45-40. And though there were a few moments where I thought Penn State might have a shot to get back into it after that, there was never any real OH CRAP IS IU GOING TO WIN THIS OR WHAT moments tonight.
Calm, cool and collected on the road? I can get used to that.
THE BAD AND UGLY: BLANK SLATE.
I’ll leave this one up to you guys. I wasn’t expecting a win on the road this year, especially after how the Hoosiers looked against the Buckeyes and Wolverines earlier Big Ten season. Therefore, no gripes from me tonight.
THE GOOD: IT’S A WIN.
There are plenty of things this young Hoosiers team has yet to master, yet to grasp, yet to learn. And so far this season — and especially as of late in losses to Illinois and Michigan — one of their Achilles Heels has been finishing out the close game and winning. But If IU can replicate the effort and performance we’ve now seen in three Big Ten home games the rest of the way, and take the next step as they did today by rallying back in the OT frame, maybe this afternoon’s game is one we can point to say this is where they figured it out.
I know there will be harder challenges at home for the Hoosier up ahead, as Wisconsin, Michigan State and Purdue loom in the coming weeks. But given the way IU has competed in their first three home conference games, IU fans should feel confident that the Hoosiers have a shot to win, that they’ll be in every single home game. This isn’t to say they’re going to run the table at Assembly Hall. Far from it. And it’s not to say they’re suddenly going to take what they’re doing on their home court and suddenly replicate it on the road. That would be foolish. But it is to say that this group of players has discovered that aggressive play on both ends of the floor — a floor they now know well — with a raucous crowd behind them is a recipe for good things.
Let it be known, Big Ten: When you come into Assembly Hall this season, there are no free passes, no easy wins.
Yes, that byline is correct. Ryan’s got the night off, so I’m taking the reigns on tonight’s GBU. Now, onward …
THE GOOD: IU WAS IN THE GAME, FOR 35 MINUTES.
For as much as Indiana struggled, and boy did they ever, the Hoosiers were in a conference road game with under six minutes to play. This, if my memory serves me correctly, was not the case last week in Columbus against Ohio State. Had you not watched the game and only looked at the final score, you would be shocked to learn Indiana was down just 48-43 at the 5:54 mark.
In a season that’s clearly headed in the direction of more losses than wins, progress must be measured in baby steps. And tonight, if Tom Crean and company need something to hang their hat on, it’s that they competed on the road for 35 minutes, as ugly as it was.
Also deserving of a mention in this space: Christian Watford. The freshman forward came to play and led IU in scoring with 16 points and also pulled down eight rebounds. Watford has a long way to go, but he continues to show flashes of talent that could make him an all-conference type of player down the road.
THE GOOD: CONSISTENCY, EXECUTION, AGGRESSION.
The Good Hoosiers showed up tonight in Bloomington. After the Bad Hoosiers lacked any sense of urgency in Columbus earlier this week, IU was a completely different squad this evening. They played like they wanted to win, like they deserved to win.
Perhaps this is just what we’re in for this season: a bit of deer-in-the-headlights-what-are-we-doing play on the road, while on its home court, Indiana plays with the utmost confidence. If the Hoosiers can give this kind of effort inside Assembly Hall every time out, they’ll be in most, if not all, of their home contests.
IU rattled off 41 points in the first half, and looked like a team on a mission. They were executing at both ends of the floor. One thing I want to point out during that impressive first 20 minutes: there’s a reason Jordan Hulls is starting alongside Jeremiah Rivers in the backcourt: his spot-up shooting ability. When Rivers is at his best on the dribble-drive and can draw help defense, Hulls stays at home on the wing or corner and has enough spacing to elevate and hit the three. And Rivers is athletic enough to take it all the way to the hole as well.
BAD AND UGLY: YEAH, WE’RE STARTING IN REVERSE TONIGHT.
Do you know what we learned tonight? Because I’ll tell you what we learned tonight. This Hoosiers team is trending as such: good performances buttressed by bad ones. Really, really bad ones.
Where one could take pride in games like IU’s victory over Michigan, or Pittsburgh or even their work against Kentucky in a loss, they’ve underachieved in Puerto Rico, looked woeful at home in a loss to Loyola (Md.) and looked equally bad against Ohio State in Columbus this evening.
We wanted to look to the Michigan game as a sign this team has turned the corner, that they were going to be OK without Mo Creek. But they are young. Young teams will do that to you. They will emblazon your heart one moment with the promise of better things on the horizon, only to regress to a middle-school turnover fest the next.
If you watched the game this evening — IU’s first real road test of the season in a stadium that wasn’t even full and was pretty lifeless — you know what happened here. Turnovers were the story. Unforced, dribbled-off-the-leg turnovers. Fourteen in the first half, coupled with the length and athleticism of Ohio State’s man defense that left IU stagnant on the offensive end, and there was just no turning back. Christian Watford had six of those 14 turnovers in the first half. (IU finished with 24 for the game, by the way.) And where Devan Dumes came in and saved the day against Michigan last week, he instead air-balled a three upon his arrival.
THE GOOD: RESOLVE.
Oh baby, what a win. With Mo Creek out for the season, and Indiana fans a bit down, a bit defeated, IU proved this afternoon inside Assembly Hall that your leading scorer does not an entire team make. Sure, Michigan isn’t that great a squad right now, and some dumb fouling kept Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims off the court for some time, but when Harris was in the game, Jeremiah Rivers did a good job keeping him in check.
Devan Dumes filled in great for Creek in the first half, hitting 3-of-5 threes for nine points, and flashing some defense as well. He was a big reason IU lead at half. Jay Bilas had the line of the afternoon when giving Dumes props for his first-half performance: “Sometimes a kid just needs to be needed.” Incredibly fitting for a player like Dumes.
And then there was everyone else filling in their roles as well: Verdell Jones continues to be a rock, and hit some big shots in both halves when IU needed them. He finished the game with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting. He played with purpose. He wanted this game. Bad. And Watford was right there with him, as he went 7-for-12 for 19 points this afternoon. If those two, along with Dumes can continue to lead the way on offense with guys like Jordan Hulls, Derek Elston and Rivers picking their spots and contributing as well, IU might be OK.
THE GOOD: THE START.
If there was anything Indiana needed to key on in this game, anything Tom Crean likely would be pleased to see, it was a good start by the Hoosiers. I know this is Bryant College, a team that’s only entering its third season as a D-I school, a team that’s now 0-13, but the Hoosiers’ good start — well, save for those six turnovers in the first 10:30 — was so crucial to this team’s overall makeup after their atrocious first half against Loyola (Md.) last week.
Heading into Big Ten play Thursday against Michigan, this young team needed a bit of a confidence boost, and going into the locker room with a 45-17 lead did just that. Jordan Hulls was solid in his start — I know Jordy has been playing well off the bench, but anyone else thinking Jeremiah Rivers’ rough game last time out had anything to do with him riding the pine to start? — and Tom Pritchard continued to return to form by bruising down low, getting fouled and getting to the line. He only hit 3-of-9 from the charity stripe, but it’s encouraging to see he got there that many times. He finished the game with 11 points and eight boards, and if he can keep up that kind of production, that starting spot should remain his. I love Derek Elston, but his energy is perfect in a sixth-man role.
IU also shot well from three-point land making 9-of-22 for 40.9 percent. And it was a team effort on the offensive end: four other guys scored in double figures besides Pritchard, as Christian Watford led the way with 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Verdell Jones also had 15, Devan Dumes added 12 and Hulls had 12 as well.
Other than that, it’s sort of hard to glean much out of this one. No offense to Bryant, but they were such an inferior opponent and it was so out of hand in the second half — IU did win by 48 points tonight, after all — what we saw might not be all that telling of how the Hoosiers are set up heading into Big Ten play.