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.
Thanks to our friends @ChrisKorman and @DustinDopirak over at the H-T/Hoosier Scoop, you can listen to the postgame comments of Tom Crean, Christian Watford, Daniel Moore, Verdell Jones and Jordan Hulls following yesterday’s loss at Wisconsin.
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.
Devan Dumes certainly could make headlines last season. No, they weren’t always the kind you cut out and pin up at your desk, (or were they?) but Dumes’ confidence at least made for some memorable moments in a season mostly devoid of them.
So where did he go?
Last season’s leading scorer, it made sense when Dumes’ numbers came down in 2009 with the influx of fresh talent. And an injury to begin the season kept him from fighting for a starting place and visibly hindered his ability to get into an offensive rhythm once he was healthy.
But Dumes, who averaged 12.7 points per game last season, has seen that average fall by more than half, and his minutes-per-game average has been reduced almost as much. Worse, Dumes has lost nearly nine points off his overall field-goal percentage from last season to this one, and his 3-point shooting is down from 38.1 percent to 32.6 percent through 14 games.
Of course, none of this looked like more than an unexplained anomaly until Maurice Creek was lost for the season, cutting more than 16 points and the Hoosiers’ best offensive option out of the gameplan. And yet, in the two games since Creek’s injury, that open starting spot has gone to Jordan Hulls, not Dumes.
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.