Thanks to a catalytic performance by junior guard Victor Oladipo and a perfectly-timed stretch of lights-out shooting by senior guard Jordan Hulls, Indiana weathered an unsightly first half to defeat Georgia 66-53 on Monday in the semifinals of the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center. The Hoosiers advance to tonight’s title game when they will play Georgetown at 10 p.m. The Hoyas beat UCLA 78-70 thanks to 23 points by guard Markel Starks.
The Hoosiers were down at half and trailed by as many as five points, but still won their first game away from Assembly Hall this season and their first game against a major conference opponent. Oladipo had 15 points and eight rebounds while Hulls and senior forward Christian Watford scored 14 points each with Hulls adding four assists against zero turnovers.
“We can learn a lot of things from this game,” Hulls said. “When our shots aren’t going, we can still rely on our defense to get stops and easy transition buckets and that thing. I thought we did a really good job on that.”
The defense got stops all evening, but there weren’t many easy transition buckets to be had because Georgia only turned the ball over 12 times and the Hoosiers scored just four points on the fast break. Still, the Hoosiers held Georgia to 34.0 percent shooting (17-for-50) and won the rebounding battle 40-24.
It made for a slow, grinding contest which is not the type the Hoosiers want to play, especially while they are still awaiting the return of injured senior forward Derek Elston and suspended freshmen big men Peter Jurkin and Hanner Mosquera-Perea. The Hoosiers had been averaging over 94 points per game before Monday’s contest.
Still, the Hoosiers mixed defenses, playing zone and man-to-man to make sure Georgia’s shots were mostly contested.
“The coaches prepared us really well for the plays and what they want out of those plays,” Hulls said. “We did a good job of executing that and doing our best. They’re a good team and they could execute the plays that they wanted to. We were able to contest all of those shots.”
The Hoosiers weren’t able to execute much of anything early. They shot just 8-for-25 (32.0 percent) in the first half, including 1-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc and turned the ball over eight times. They held the lead just once in the first half after the opening minute and trailed 30-29. Four IU players, including Oladipo, Hulls and sophomore center Cody Zeller, picked up two first half fouls and had to come off the floor.
“We just missed some shots and we had different lineups and the thing that hurt us is we had eight turnovers in the first half,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “We could never get a rhythm. We never got the pace going the way we needed it to go.”
But Oladipo got the Hoosiers rolling early in the second half. He rebounded a missed 3-pointer by junior swingman Will Sheehey and went straight up with it for a two-hand dunk to give the Hoosiers a 34-33 lead. Indiana fell behind 38-34, but then Oladipo drove baseline for a jam and then drove from the left wing for a reverse layup to tie the game at 38. That electrified a crowd of mostly Indiana partisans as well as the Hoosiers bench.
“I thought they were giving me the lane,” Oladipo said. “I felt like I could attack with the dribble. … We kind of started off slow. To see those couple of shots go in and make those plays was good for our team and good for our energy.”
What Oladipo sparked, Hulls caused to explode. The senior guard was 1-for-2 in the first half and missed another makeable 3-pointer in the second. However, after Watford hit a 3-pointer that gave Indiana a 45-40 lead, Hulls drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Hoosiers a sudden 51-42 cushion. He found Oladipo for a jumper in the lane shortly after to make it a double-digit advantage. Georgia cut the lead to 55-48, but Hulls then found Oladipo for a dunk on an alley-oop, then juked a defender on the perimeter with a brilliant spin move to get to the lane for a layup. He followed that with another 3-pointer with 3:29 left to make it 62-47 and effectively put the game away.
“That’s an NBA guard,” Crean said. “… That young man is a huge winner who’s got a lot of skills. A lot of skills, and he improves constantly.”
Said Oladipo: “He’s a senior, he’s a pro. He’s a great player. Without him, we can’t win. He knows he has to hit big shots and he hits them.”
That made up for the ones Indiana failed to make early and made sure the Hoosiers escaped the first game in which they were challenged.
“This win,” Crean said, “is going to come back and have a lot of value for us down the road.”