This team has a way of keeping things interesting.
Twice in the second half, I thought the Hoosier were toast. Down five and looking out of sync with 8:42, all it took was Devan Dumes and Jordan Hulls threes with a Verdell Jones jumper in between, and all of a sudden the Hoosiers were up three.
Then, down six with just over a minute to play — when things really seemed to be over — there was Mr. Clutch VJ3 popping in a three. Add in a lockdown man-to-man defensive set by the Hoosiers, and Jordan Hulls chasing down the rebound in the corner after a Purdue miss, and suddenly the Hoosiers held their fate in their hands.
Oh, and lest you thought it was over after Chris Kramer came up with that huge block on on VJ3 — and it was a pretty clean block, in my eyes — and Robbie Hummel, one of the best free throw shooters in the land nailed two shots to put Purdue up five, there was VJ3 with another three. And there was Hummel at the line again — the best free-throw shooter in the Big Ten, mind you — missing the front end of his two free throws, setting up one last chance for VJ3 to play the hero’s role.
He got a good look. But it just missed to the left side of the rim. Another heartbreaker. Another one where these Hoosiers came within a fraction of a terrific win.
So it goes this season.
What really killed the Hoosiers was free throws. No, not in the first half, as they were nearly flawless, hitting 11-of-13. But it was when they mattered the most that the Hoosiers came up short. Three times in the last five minutes, the Hoosiers missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity. You just can’t let that happen for a team that doesn’t have a large margin of error.
But other than that, these Hoosiers played quite well against the No. 8 team in the country. A team that’s now in their third year with that vaunted class of talent. Coming out and putting up 47 points in the first half — the most points they scored in a half all season — was something to behold. And a big part of it was due to Tom Pritchard’s effort. Where has this guy been all season? It wasn’t just on those designed slip screens that he scored; Pritchard also made some moves in the paint with authority. He had 13 points at half. (His grandma passed away last evening; he seemed inspired to play well for her tonight.) IU also shot a blistering 51.6 percent from the floor in the first half to aid in that lead.
And most importantly, they took care of the ball. Only five turnovers in the first half, to Purdue’s six. The Boilermakers are seventh in the country in offensive turnover percentage; they are 19th-best in the country in defensive turnover percentage. So that’s a terrific effort by Indiana in that regard, and it’s a trend that followed in the second half: The Hoosiers had 10 turnovers on the night, while Purdue had nine.
The Hoosiers benefited from active hands in the passing lanes and some opportunistic swipes at the ball, they had seven steals on the night. It allowed them to score 19 points off of turnovers, to best Purdue’s 11.
Credit Purdue for coming out in the second half, and scoring on their first three possessions. This is what veteran teams do. Credit Purdue for locking down more on defense in the second half after being a bit lapse in the first half, and imposing their will on the Hoosiers with some blocks in the lane. Credit Hummel for not wilting under the pressure and hitting three of those four free throws late. Credit Purdue for holding on to this victory in a place they hadn’t won in ten years, a place that was as loud at its been all season.
Some day, I will tip my cap in a similar fashion to these young Hoosiers. They will hold off the scrappy, never-say-die, young up-and-comers in the Big Ten at some point in the years to come.
But for this night, and in this season, they’re still on the wrong side of experience.