It started poorly. Turnovers. Overdribbling. Lack of energy. But we’ve been here before. The Hoosiers have had rough starts, overcome them, found their stride and cruised to victory. But they simply never recovered tonight. The offense, such a constant source of strength all Big Ten season, fell off a cliff at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Yogi Ferrell had just frozen in the lane instead of following Derrick Walton out to the left corner. Walton drilled a 3-pointer in front of the IU bench and Indiana found itself down 15-4 at the 14:31 mark with four turnovers to boot. So Crean called a timeout to right the ship.
After falling in the hole 7-0 out the gate, Indiana crawled out of it and led by 12 at half (39-27). The Hoosiers have been brilliant at home so far in conference play, embarrassing their last three opponents in Assembly Hall on the strength of strong 3-point shooting.
So to be up by double digits after shooting just 1-of-10 from beyond the arc seemed to be a good sign. If the Hoosiers trended more towards makes than the misses in the second half, they figured to comfortably put this one away with plenty of time remaining in the game. As it stood, their zone had completely shut down Minnesota in the first half (.74 points per possession). Simply keep up the solid defense, hit some 3-pointers and cruise to victory.
But it didn’t go that way. Far from it. The Hoosiers lost their double-digit lead and even trailed by one with under four minutes to play. But in the end, Indiana found a way to survive late and escape with their eighth conference victory despite a scare of epic proportions.
With the Hoosiers struggling on offense, their senior leader was an absolute stud — especially down the stretch. He nailed a 3-pointer to give Indiana a two-point lead with 1:13 to go. After Nigel Hayes made two at the line to tie the contest, Ferrell back cut on Ethan Happ off the right wing. Max Bielfeldt made the pass out of the right corner and Ferrell hit a lay-up to put Indiana back up two with 23 seconds left.
It was a miraculous play and maybe, just maybe had won Indiana the ball game.
At this point, the Hoosiers are playing so well so often we’re running out of ways to heap praise on this group. It’s another blowout win at home where the opponent stood no chance from the opening tip. Ohio State came and Indiana embarrassed the Buckeyes by 25. Illinois traveled to Bloomington and lost by 34. The Wildcats, try as they might, were just no match for the Hoosiers this afternoon in a 32-point blowout for the home team.
Forget the level of competition so far, there’s no denying Indiana is playing at an incredibly high level on both ends of the floor. The Hoosiers are not just winning. They’re dominating. This is the team’s first seven-game winning streak in Big Ten play in 23 years (1993) and its 12th straight victory overall.
It was one of those special nights under the Assembly Hall lights.
We’ve been here before with a second half where Indiana’s offense seemingly could do no wrong. But it’ll be one to remember for some time when you add in Yogi Ferrell becoming Indiana’s all-time assists leader and a program record 19 3-pointers.
Illinois took a page from Minnesota’s gameplan and packed the paint on Indiana early. But the Hoosiers, as they do often at home, got hot from the outside. It helped fuel the record-setting performance. They rested on it for a bit too long early, however. They weren’t getting into the paint and working inside out. It in part helped Illinois crawl back into the contest at 22-21. But once Indiana stopped settling and starting passing, cutting, driving, moving and shaking, the Illini just couldn’t hang.
The numbers said Minnesota was no good. They implied Indiana was primed to march up to the Barn and come away with a comfortable victory over a struggling squad.
But that quickly got thrown out the window. Because Minnesota played with desperation. And a desperate team playing like it’s their last game on earth can seize control and flip the script. The Golden Gophers were physical from the onset. They packed the paint, double-teamed Thomas Bryant and held the Hoosiers out of offensive flow. On the other end, Minnesota went right after Indiana’s defense and forced fouls. Nearly a third (11) of their 34 first half points came from the charity stripe.
Minnesota got up by as much as nine in the first half as the Hoosiers missed 3-pointers and turned the ball over at too high a rate (27.4 TO% in first half). But Nick Zeisloft came to save the day. His shot’s been off a bit so far in Big Ten play — including an 0-for-8 mark against OSU — but it recovered in a big way today. Zeisloft hit four straight 3s during an impressive stretch in the first half and it helped the Hoosiers go into halftime tied up at 34.