WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana held Northwestern to just 17 first-half points, built a lead that was as great as 16, and held on despite a second-half Wildcat rally to claim a 67-59 victory in front of a split-allegiance crowd of 8,117 at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill.
Northwestern went on an 8-0 run midway through the second half to cut Indiana’s lead to five with 6:48 to go. A 3-pointer by junior guard Victor Oladipo made it 54-43 Indiana with 4:52 left, but Northwestern hung in and cut the deficit to 56-51 with 2:05 to go. The Hoosiers staved off the upset, however, and hit six free throws in the final minute to put the game away.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: IU sophomore center Cody Zeller and senior forward Christian Watford took full advantage of the Hoosiers’ edge in the post, and Indiana got the ball inside for layups and free throw opportunities. Zeller posted his second-straight double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Watford hit a pair of 3-pointers as well and finished with 14 points.
For the second time in three games, senior guard Jordan Hulls missed three free throws in a row. Hulls, who owns the Big Ten record with 58 consecutive made free throws, still managed to shake it off and hit four free throws in the final minute. He finished with 15 points.
Junior guard Victor Oladipo struggled to find room to operate on offense and didn’t have his best game, but still posted seven points, six rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal.
Northwestern senior guard Reggie Hearn scored nine of the Wildcats’ 17 first-half points and finished with 22 points. Senior swingman Jared Swopshire had 13 points and eight rebounds and freshman guard Tre Dempos scored 11.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN: In the first half, Indiana took advantage of Northwestern’s man-to-man defense by exploiting their advantage in the post. The Wildcats defended the perimeter well, but didn’t have the muscle to deal with Watford and Zeller without fouling. One of the only reasons the Hoosiers weren’t able to put the game away early is the Hoosiers missed some shots at close range. The post game did eventually open up 3-point looks froom the outside, which in turn also opened up driving lanes for Hulls and freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell.
The Hoosiers also kept Northwestern’s Princeton offense from giving them too many problems. The Hoosiers kept Northwestern from beating them with backdoor cuts. They also defended Northwestern’s 3-point shots reasonably well and had some good fortune on open 3’s, as the Wildcats made just one of nine 3-pointers in the first half.
In the second half, Northwestern shot the ball better, knocking down five of 10 3-point attempts, and also got the ball to the rim. After the under-12 timeout, the Wildcats switched from man-to-man to a 1-3-1 zone. The Hoosiers had major problems with it early, as Ferrell threw a pass that was picked off by Swopshire and taken all the way for a dunk and Indiana went six possessions in a row at one point without scoring. However, Zeller hit a running bank shot to get the scoring started and also tipped in a miss by Hulls. Oladipo hit a huge 3-pointer and junior swingman Will Sheehey hit a jumper in the mid-range that helped the Hoosiers find their groove against it.
The Hoosiers finished the day shooting 47.6 percent from the field and made 23 of 31 free throw attempts. Ferrell’s giveaway for Swopshire’s dunk was one of only six Indiana turnovers despite Northwestern’s trapping zone.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: The Hoosiers would certainly have liked this win to have looked a little bit prettier. It was clear from the beginning that the Hoosiers were far superior athletically to Northwestern, and that this Wildcat team isn’t nearly as dangerous as Northwestern has been the last four seasons with John Shurna and Drew Crawford. Lesser teams than Indiana — Iowa, for instance — have had an easier time putting the Wildcats away than the Hoosiers did.
But the fact remains. Indiana has gone on the road three times this season and they haven’t lost yet. The loss to Wisconsin will force them to tumble in the polls, but the Badgers lost at Iowa on Saturday night, so there are no more unbeatens in the Big Ten and the Hoosiers are on the level with one defeat. They didn’t allow the Wisconsin loss to beat them twice. They hung on and didn’t fold in the face of a rally on the road. Obviously, that’s against an inferior team in a road environment that was very friendly to Indiana with much of the Hoosiers’ Chicagoland alumni base coming out, and it doesn’t portend much of anything about what might happen in tougher road environments like Columbus, East Lansing or Ann Arbor. But basically, the Hoosiers survived another game in which they could have stubbed their toes.
WHO SAID WHAT:
“I thought our Indiana team responded in a huge, huge way today.We’ve had a long week, and we’ve gotten better throughout all of it. To come in here today and get this result on the road, to win our third straight game on the road, is a big deal,” Crean said. “It’s not easy to win in any league. It’s especially tough to win in this league. I don’t think there’s any coach, player or program that wouldn’t agree with that. It’s very difficult to win.”
“You just have to stay locked in to what’s important. That’s how do youiprove. how do you make your teammates better, and what’s your recipe for winning. Our guys have done a very good job the last couple of days of really understanding that again. They’ve been very locked in to this game. I think it showed in our defense. Now, with that being said, there were times when Northwestern took advantage of our mistakes. That’s what Northwestern does better than maybe anybody in this league. If you play a screen the wrong way, they’re going to make you pay for it. That happened to us a couple of times, we missed a few layups, but we never got down.”
“We got the win. That’s all we really care about.”
On his feelings on the fact that Northwestern made a point to foul him.
That’s fine. Put me on the line.”
On playing against the 1-3-1 zone.
“They just kind of sped us up for a while. We kind of panicked for a while just because that’s what the defense forces you to do. Once we started getting it into the middle, getting it to the baseline, we started getting open shots.”