WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Now that was a performance.
Indiana has played better in a half this season (See: Minnesota), but the Hoosiers had yet to put together a complete game like they did Wednesday night at Mackey Arena.
Some Indiana fans have acted spoiled at times this year, nit-picking small details from games the Hoosiers have won. It’s going to be hard to find much fault from them in this one.
No. 3 Indiana, who some had predicted would be looking ahead to Saturday’s showdown with No. 1 Michigan, completely dismantled rival Purdue on its home court. The Hoosiers played workmanlike half-court defense, they got out in transition, they hit shots, and they had the Purdue crowd leaving with more than eight minutes still to play in the game.
Indiana 97, Purdue 60. The worst loss ever for the Boilermakers at Mackey Arena.
“I was just excited we were able to play a full 40-minute game,” senior guard Jordan Hulls said. “We’re gonna need to do that to win in the games that we want to. Every game is a big game for us. It was great to see everybody play great team defense and watch that flow into our offense.”
Hulls and his fellow seniors were around in 2010 when the Hoosiers lost 74-55 in West Lafayette. They were 0-4 in their first four games against the school’s biggest rival, losing three of the games by double figures.
Even though the team’s younger players weren’t around to experience such embarrassment, there was little chance Indiana’s upperclassmen were going to let them take the Boilermakers lightly. This is Indiana-Purdue, after all, and the Hoosiers clearly own this rivalry again.
“We’ve had enough of a viewpoint of some of the great teams in this league, like Matt [Painter’s] have been when you had guys like JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “When you see enough of that over a period of time, you either become that or you keep getting it done to you. And our guys have really learned to become that type of team.”
This was a perfect example of how good this team can be when it plays up to its capability. The Hoosiers (19-2, 7-1) got production from their bench like they will need to win a Big Ten title. Jeremy Hollowell’s performance was especially encouraging, even though it only resulted in two points. Derek Elston got back on the floor, and Will Sheehey continues to play well.
Sheehey dished out seven assists to go along with his seven points, and he fired up the Purdue student section near the end of the game before Crean grabbed him and settled him down.
“Will’s got a great edge to him,” Crean said. “He’s not the player that he is without that edge and that energy. It’s no accident we’re playing better because he’s playing so well right now.”
After last season, you figured maybe Michigan State would take a step back in the Big Ten. The Spartans lost the heart and soul of their team in Draymond Green, a guy who tortured Big Ten teams and fans for four years.
But here come the Spartans, sitting atop the conference rankings with a 6-1 league record and a No. 13 ranking as they prepare to enter Assembly Hall for Sunday afternoon’s showdown with No. 7 Indiana. On paper, it’s the same old competitive Michigan State team.
“I’m used to the Tom Izzo that’s gloom and doom and ‘the sky is falling’ and he’s only happy when he’s miserable,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said Saturday. “And reading some of the comments coming out of Michigan, those guys are really excited to play. That’s nerve-wracking.”
Green is gone, but almost everyone else is back, including explosive point guard Keith Appling. The 6-foot-1 Appling nearly single-handedly beat the Hoosiers (17-2, 5-1) in the teams’ first meeting a year ago in East Lansing, going for a season-high 25 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
In his only career game at Assembly Hall, though, Appling scored only six points on 2-of-6 shooting.
“He’s the guy who beat us a year ago,” Crean said. “He’s tremendous. He can turn it on at any point in time. He’s excellent in transition, he wants to get to the foul line for his pull-up jumper. He’s delivering the ball, he’s getting to the rim, he’s just creating a lot of havoc.”
Added senior guard Jordan Hulls: “Lot better shooter. He’s added that to his game and he’s very explosive in transition, just getting to the rim or pulling up. We know we have to try and contain him.”
The problem for Indiana is, Appling is not the Spartans’ only weapon. Not even close. He’s joined in the backcourt by Indiana native and 2012 Indiana Mr. Basketball, Gary Harris, who is averaging 12.3 points per game in his freshman campaign. He’s also shooting nearly 39 percent from 3-point range.
“He’s very athletic, likes to get to the rim,” Hulls said. “We just have to do a good job of keeping him outside and not letting him get penetration. He’s a very capable 3-point shooter and he can play different areas on the floor. You just have to be aware of him.”
The backcourt matchup should be interesting considering the Hoosiers usually start Hulls and Yogi Ferrell, two guys right around 6-foot. Either Appling or Harris is going to be a difficult matchup for Hulls, so whoever he guards could dictate who Michigan State (17-3, 6-1) runs its offense around.
EVANSTON, Ill. — Cody Zeller (21 points, 13 rebounds), Christian Watford (14 points, six rebounds) and Jordan Hulls (15 points) met with the media following Indiana’s 67-59 win at Northwestern on Sunday afternoon.
Watch and listen to both press conferences in the embedded media players below:
First things first. Indiana is 3-0 on the road in the Big Ten. While it’s easy to pick apart the mistakes this team has made in second halves, particularly in Big Ten play, it’s important to recognize this team is 16-2 overall and 4-1 in the country’s toughest conference.
Early on, Indiana established control despite not playing its best offensively for the first 20 minutes. That’s because the Hoosiers held the Wildcats to 7-of-23 shooting from the field in the first half. Besides Reggie Hearn, Northwestern barely showed up in the first half on its way to 17 points.
Christian Watford was a big reason why Indiana was able to open up a lead of as many as nine points less than six minutes in the game. The senior from Birmingham was hot early on, scoring seven of IU’s first nine points. It seems Indiana has been looking to get Watford going early in games and today was no exception. He finished with 11 points and four boards in the first half.
Cody Zeller also picked back up the strong play he showed in the first half against Wisconsin as he pulled down eight first-half rebounds, three of the offensive variety. Victor Oladipo also had three offensive rebounds in the first half and the combined effort of Zeller and Oladipo led to the Hoosiers posting a 43.8 offensive rebounding percentage before intermission.
But with a 14-point at the half, the question looming in everybody’s mind was this: Would Indiana put Northwestern away or allow the Wildcats to claw their way back in?
It took a while to come to fruition as the Hoosiers led 45-29 with 11:09, but thanks to a 1-3-1 zone defense that Indiana couldn’t solve, Northwestern made a run. The lead dwindled all the way down to five at 47-42 at the 6:48 mark on a layup by Hearn and it became clear that Indiana would either answer the call or let this game go all the way down to the wire.
Fortunately for IU, Zeller was there to make a play, just as he did for most of the afternoon.
His layup with 6:20 to go stretched the lead back to seven and he followed that with an tip-in of a missed runner by Jordan Hulls to make the cushion nine points. Northwestern never got closer than five the rest of the way and Zeller finished with team-highs of 21 points and 13 rebounds.