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.
On Friday afternoon, Tom Crean talked about the challenge his team was going to face against a physically-imposing Minnesota team. The Hoosiers have seen tough, physical teams before, but the Gophers were on another level than Indiana’s other opponents thus far.
In the first half, though, No. 5 Indiana had few problems. The Hoosiers (15-1, 3-0) beat No. 8 Minnesota at its own game, and were incredibly effective on the offensive end. They couldn’t have played much better in the first 20 minutes.
“We knew the things we had to do were take care of the basketball, we had to guard the 3s, and we did none of it in the first half,” said a frustrated Minnesota coach Tubby Smith afterward.
But little did the Hoosiers know, they would be in a fight for their lives in the second half. Indiana lacked some of the intensity it showed to start of the game, and the Gophers (15-2, 3-1) looked like an entirely different team. They played like a team with nothing to lose, guarding Indiana all over the court and playing every bit as physical as Crean expected.
You wouldn’t have known the Hoosiers were prepared for it. At times in the second half, it they looked like they had never seen a press before. They turned the ball over, they stood around, and they failed to match Minnesota’s physicality.
“We didn’t attack it correctly. We just didn’t,” Crean said. “We got caught up in getting it down the court rather than how we were going to get it down the court. We didn’t do a great job with our spacing, we didn’t do a great job with the in-bounds. I’ll blame myself for not having enough screening. They were very, very physical. A couple times, it was hard to get open.”
It was more than just a couple times. The Gophers almost entirely erased a 23-point halftime deficit, cutting Indiana’s lead to just three with 19 seconds remaining. It was closer than it ever should have been, and it looked like the Hoosiers were melting down on their home floor.
At the end of the day, though, Indiana got a win against at top-10 team at home, and that cannot be forgotten. Sure, the Hoosiers have plenty of areas in which they must improve in the next two months, but that’s part of the beauty of what they were able to accomplish on Saturday. Even with their second half struggled and absolutely no production for their bench, the Hoosiers beat a very good Minnesota team.
Jordan Hulls (19 points, four rebounds), Victor Oladipo (20 points, six rebounds, three steals), Cody Zeller (18 points, six rebounds, three blocks) and Yogi Ferrell (13 points, eight assists) met with the media following Indiana’s 88-81 win over Minnesota on Saturday at Assembly Hall.
Watch and listen to their postgame comments in the embedded media players below:
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Christian Watford set the tone with a 13-point first half Monday and the Hoosier defense took care of the rest as No. 5 Indiana set down an overmatched Penn State team, 74-51.
Thanks mostly to Watford, the Hoosiers (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) were hot early against the Nittany Lions (8-6, 0-2).
Indiana led 44-27 at halftime and despite a sloppy second half that included 13 turnovers, the Hoosiers prevailed easily in front of 9,386 at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Eight of the Hoosiers’ first ten points in the game came from Watford.
“We wanted to get him going. We went to him right off the bat,” Tom Crean said. “That was a big part of our gameplan. And he responded.”
Penn State only led once, 3-2 at the 18:20 mark of the first half, but Indiana would quickly get the best of the Lions, reeling off a 13-0 run from there.
“I just wanted to be aggressive, wanted to get in the paint and get some easy buckets to start off,” Watford said. “My teammates did a great job of finding me and we executed some plays and took it from there.”
Though the second half produced a more balanced score (30-24) and Watford only scored three more points, Indiana had an answer every time Penn State scored. The longest run of unanswered points the Lions could muster was six, and the rest of their runs were no greater than 3-0.
“I’m really proud of our team’s effort defensively, on the road, to come in and hold a team to under 32 percent shooting,” Crean said.
When it was all said and done, the Hoosiers outshot the Nittany Lions 52.4 percent to 31.7 percent, with four starters finishing in double figures.
Hulls bounces back
It’s not like senior guard Jordan Hulls to endure an 0-for-10 shooting night, which he did on Dec. 31 in the Hoosiers’ 69-65 win at Iowa.
As such, the senior bounced back in a big way against Penn State, knocking down four of six field goals, including two of three 3-pointers, and finished with 14 points.
“I was in [the gym] quite a bit, yeah,” Hulls said with a laugh, “but nothing really changed. Those games happen and we were able to get a win – that’s all I really care about.”
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Christian Watford (16 points, eight rebounds) and Jordan Hulls (14 points) met with the media following Indiana’s 74-51 win over Penn State on Monday night at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Watch and listen to reaction from both IU seniors in the embedded media players below:
Tim Gilbert is a sophomore at Penn State majoring in print journalism and is a Daily Collegian copy/wire editor.
Indiana closed out 2012 on Monday afternoon with a critical 69-65 road win at Iowa to open the Big Ten season. Here’s a look at five takeaways from the Hoosiers’ 13th win of the season:
· This was IU’s most important win so far: Yes, wins over Georgetown and North Carolina might be “better” in terms of bolstering the NCAA Tournament resume, but given how the Hoosiers started out on the road in the Big Ten a season ago (1-5), it’s fair to call this the most important win so far this season. Indiana, despite its resurgence in 2011-2012 that culminated with a Sweet 16 appearance, finished just 3-6 away from Assembly Hall in conference play. For a team with Big Ten title aspirations, 3-6 isn’t going to get the job done. Even though it was just the first conference game, a loss in Iowa City could have ultimately been the difference between a conference title and finishing as a runner-up. The performance wasn’t pretty, but it builds confidence going into the next three road games, which are games IU needs to take: Penn State, Northwestern and Purdue.
· Christian Watford wasn’t the difference, but he was critical: Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller are Indiana’s two best players, but in yesterday’s first half, Christian Watford came up big. The 6-foot-9 forward from Birmingham, who has been notoriously inconsistent throughout his career, had eight points and four rebounds in 15 first half minutes. And as his teammates shot just 1-of-5 from distance in the first half, Watford hit 2-of-3 of his attempts from beyond the arc. Both were in critical spots. After a shaky start that included a missed shot by Zeller followed by a Zeller turnover, Watford knocked in the game’s first points on IU’s third possession. Watford’s second trey gave IU its largest lead of the first half at 29-20 at the 3:11 mark. While it’s impossible to know what to expect from Watford on a game-to-game basis, IU has to be hopeful that yesterday’s performance is the norm rather than the exception.
· Jordan Hulls shot 0-for-10 and still played winning basketball: The same can’t be said for Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble, who shot 1-of-14 and would have been far better served getting the ball to Aaron White and Mike Gesell rather than forcing contested shots. Hulls, on the other hand, took mostly shots in the flow of the offense that just weren’t falling. And despite going scoreless, he filled out the rest of the stat sheet nicely in 22 minutes: six assists, three rebounds, two steals and no turnovers. It’ll be a shock if Hulls goes scoreless again the rest of the way, but Monday afternoon showed that he can still be a productive player even without scoring.