North Carolina couldn’t shoot, and yet here was Marcus Paige dropping three … after three .. after three … after three. The Tar Heels were hot from distance from the start and it was an early nail in the coffin for Indiana’s hopes at its first Elite Eight berth under Tom Crean. The Hoosiers went down by 10 with 9:49 to go in the first half and never got any closer the rest of the way.
North Carolina entered the game shooting just 31.4 percent from distance. The Tar Heels finished off the Hoosiers’ season by hitting 55 percent (11-of-20) from distance. It wasn’t all that sunk Indiana. Entering the game as the fourth best offensive rebounding team in the country, the Tar Heels snagged almost half their misses (47%) and even got three rebounds on multiple possessions in the second half. Their free throw rate was 53 percent and they hit 26-of-33 from the charity stripe. They turned it over on just 13 percent of their possessions. North Carolina scored 1.42 points per possession and shot an effective field goal percentage of 60.
Add it all up and Indiana simply was outplayed from start to finish.
The Wildcats’ length and athleticism made the Hoosiers uncomfortable on offense. They brilliantly denied Yogi Ferrell the ball on inbounds passes and let Troy Williams dribble as much as he pleased. We know how that goes.
Tyler Ulis looked like the first team All-American he is and won the opening rounds against Ferrell in decisive fashion. Indiana missed open 3s, never a good sign for the Hoosiers.
But this talented Kentucky team was not without faults. They were poor with the ball in the first 20 minutes (25.9 TO%) and outside of Ulis, they shot just 6-of-17. So after trailing by seven early, Indiana carried a one-point advantage into half in a low-scoring 33-32 affair.
Save for some dumb passes and allowing a little too much penetration at times, the Hoosiers played a solid enough first half in Des Moines against the Mocs. Was it their best half of the season? No.
But punching the lead out to 16 (46-30) before settling on a nine-point halftime advantage (46-37) was an encouraging sign after their loss to Michigan on Friday in the Big Ten Tournament. Scoring 1.27 points per possession with 24 points in the paint and a 4-of-8 mark from distance did the trick, too. Still, you didn’t quite feel like Indiana was in full control of this one. The Mocs — with 29 wins coming into the contest including some impressive road wins — didn’t look like a team that was going to roll over and die.
Indiana would need to keep it going and then some if it was looking for a comfortable victory. And that the Hoosiers certainly did.
Survive and advance. It’s March. It’s the name of the game as the Hoosiers enter the postseason. They learned that the hard way on Friday against No. 8 seed Michigan in their Big Ten Tournament opener.
The Wolverines were fighting for their NCAA tournament hopes. They played like it, too.
After two late corner 3-pointers from Duncan Robinson and a buzzer-beater from Kameron Chatman, compounded with an Indiana turnover with 21 seconds left — an issue that plagued the team all afternoon — Michigan shocked the top-seeded Hoosiers 72-69 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
It was a game, though, that the Hoosiers found themselves on the back foot for from the beginning.
An electric senior day atmosphere shocked the Hoosiers to start. They were frantic and giddy and Maryland capitalized by jumping out to a 12-4 lead.
But once the Hoosiers came into their being, the Terrapins, for all their talent, were run out of the gym. The Hoosiers closed the first half on a 26-6 run, as Maryland scored just six points over the final 10:45 and shot only 6-of-21 after starting 5-of-7 from the field. Indiana swallowed the Terrapins on a number of possessions, as they could only muster up shots late in the shot clock or not at all.
In his final performance under the lights of Assembly Hall, Yogi Ferrell played with some extra razzle dazzle, finding Nick Zeisloft on a next level wrap around pass for a 3 at the top of the key as he drove to the hole. It was the punctuation mark of a half he spent a lot of time shaking and baking all over Indiana’s end of the floor.
By the time Troy Williams’ contested 3-pointer dropped just before the buzzer to give Indiana a 13-point lead (41-28) heading into halftime, the Hoosiers were on their way to an undefeated season inside Assembly Hall and yet another win over a ranked opponent.
Up three with just over a minute to go in the first half, and here was Indiana’s lineup: four freshman (Harrison Niego, OG Anunoby, Juwan Morgan, Thomas Bryant) and a redshirt senior (Nick Zeisloft). The Hoosiers were saddled with foul trouble as starters Collin Hartman (three fouls), Troy Williams (three fouls) and Yogi Ferrell (two fouls) watched from the bench.
Niego entered the ball to Bryant near the left high post. Bryant barreled his way into the lane, jumped up from 10 feet out and scored with his right hand over Ahmad Wagner. Indiana went up five.
On the other end of the court, Anunoby split a double screen from Wagner and Dom Uhl like a running back finding a seam in his offensive line as they tried to free Peter Jok. Anunoby met Jok and gave him trouble on the left wing. Jok eventually took a contested long 2 over Anunoby’s length that missed.
Bryant got the rebound and Tom Crean came out on the court barking orders for Indiana’s last possession of the half. Niego dribbled and dribbled near the left hash mark.
“Huge possession right here,” said Dan Dakich on a night he continued to effuse praise for the Hoosiers.
The first half at the State Farm Center was one to forget. Not only did the Illini assert their gameplan on Indiana and bust out to a 14-4 lead as the Hoosiers struggled on both sides of the ball, but it was also an ugly half of basketball.
The Hoosiers turned it over 25 percent of their possessions. They shot just 3-of-15 from 3-point distance and scored only .84 points per possession. Nick Zeisloft, starting in place of the injured Robert Johnson, had some issues passing into the post and racked up three turnovers. But despite all that, Indiana trailed by just one point at half (28-27), as the Illini had some turnovers issues (21.9%) of their own after a hot start.
On Indiana’s first possession of the second half, it went to Thomas Bryant in the post for a bucket. That possession was the start of the Hoosiers seizing control of the contest and leaving Illinois for dead. From there, Indiana cruised to a 27-point victory by outscoring the Illini by a ridiculous 47-19 over the final 20 minutes of the contest.
Bloomington buzzed on an unseasonable warm February afternoon. The student GA line kept going and going and going. And once the game tipped, the Hoosiers did what they usually do: Take out a ranked opponent inside Assembly Hall.
Last time around against Nebraska, we touched on Indiana’s lack of rhythm to start games on offense. It didn’t happen tonight because the Hoosiers were so clean with the ball. Indiana’s first turnover of the game came late in the half — a Robert Johnson offensive foul at the 2:54 mark. The Hoosiers had just four miscues all game (season-best 6.5 TO%). John Gasaway wrote earlier this month that Indiana’s turnovers were costing them more points than any other team in the country. So it was no surprise the Hoosiers were up over 1.6 points per possession midway through the first half as they’d yet to squander away any possessions, leading by as much as 12 at the 6:21 mark.
“I think this Indiana team needs to find a way to find rhythm early,” he said. “Play 40 minutes of basketball the way they can play and they are near unstoppable. The problem is it takes them time to find rhythm.”
A lack of rhythm has indeed been a problem for Indiana at times to start games this season. Early turnovers have hurt the offense and put them behind the 8-ball. Those early turnovers were there again tonight. But that wasn’t the only problem. Nebraska was seriously locked in on defense, denying the 3-point line with fury and double-teaming the post. Tim Miles stomped and called out movement and it was all working.
Indiana was out of sorts and Nebraska was dictating the terms on Branch McCracken Court.
But Indiana’s simply been too good this season at home to let it last all game. And so the Hoosiers didn’t.
Out of the gate, Indiana went toe-to-toe with the Spartans as both offenses fired on all cylinders. The Max Bielfeldt (15 points, 10 rebounds) insertion into the starting lineup for matchup purposes looked like a stroke of genius. He hit in the paint and from distance and kept MSU off the glass as the Hoosiers got hot early.
OG Anunoby came in and did OG things. A drive and rim rattling dunk through the paint. A steal and score in transition. The 3-ball was falling for a number of Hoosiers (7-of-16) in the first half and it helped them jump out to a 10-point lead at the 7:58 mark. While they trailed by one at the break (41-40) after the Spartans closed the half on a run, there was no reason to think Indiana wasn’t going to be competitive in the second half and make the Spartans work for the W.
Or maybe even steal a victory in East Lansing if it got some breaks.