WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana survived a painfully-slow first half with a 27-18 lead and then poured 49 points on Nebraska in the second half to run away with a 76-47 victory in front of 17,472 at Assembly Hall.
The No. 1 Hoosiers opened the second half with a 7-0 run and went on a 15-2 run shortly thereafter to take a 54-30 lead and effectively bury the 11th-place Cornhuskers. The Hoosiers kept pouring it on and led by 31 with less than a minute to go before alate layup by Sergej Vucetic cut it under 29 points.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: IU sophomore center Cody Zeller only played 18 minutes because of foul trouble, but he still scored 16 points. He was 4-for-9 from the field, 8-for-11 at the line and had a steal and a fast-break dunk at at one point.
Senior forward Christian Watford continued a very consistent stretch with a double-double, posting 13 points and 11 rebounds, knocking down all six of his free throws. Nebraska didn’t make it easy for junior guard Victor Oladipo to find his offense, clogging the lanes to make it difficult for him to drive, but he hit a 3-pointer and also crashed the offensive glass for buckets and finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and three steals.
Junior swingman Will Sheehey had nine points and point guards Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell had eight each with Hulls hitting a pair of 3-pointers and also dishing out three assists.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN: Indiana was stymied on some level by Nebraska’s constrictive play in the first half, but the Hoosiers stayed patient, got the ball in the lane, drew fouls and defended well enough to keep their heads above water. They shot just 31.6 percent from the field in the first half (6-for-19), but they also shot 13-for-16 from the free throw line and held Nebraska to 7-for-17 shooting. The Hoosiers went more than 10 minutes without a field goal from the 18:59 mark in the first half to the 8:45 mark, but they only trailed 14-13 when Sheehey broke the streak with a left-handed layup.
The Hoosiers started to find an offensive rhythm toward the end of the first half, and when they started hitting 3’s in the second half, the offense was able to operate much more freely. The Cornhuskers packed the lane as tightly as they possibly could with as many men as they could to keep the Hoosiers from getting driving lanes and post touches, but the 3’s drew them out and made it easier to get looks in the paint. IU finished 16-for-29 from the field in the second half and 6-for-9 from the line while continuing to shoot a high mark at the free throw line, hitting 11 of 13 free throws to finish 24-for-29 for the game.
The Hoosiers also won the turnover battle big, turning it over just nine times and scoring 18 points off of Nebraska’s 15 giveaways. They allowed just one Cornhusker player, senior guard Dylan Talley, to score in double figures with 16 points. Junior guard Ray Gallegos, the team’s leading scorer for the season, shot just 3-for-14 from the field and 2-for-10 from beyond the arc to finish with eight points.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN:This Indiana victory certainly didn’t surprise anybody. Nebraska is grossly overmatched talent-wise, Indiana was heavily favored, and KenPom.com pegged an Indiana victory as a 98 percent probability.
But this win could help the Hoosiers in almost the same way that inoculation helps fight disease. Nebraska is in a way, a weakened form of the Wisconsin virus. The Cornhuskers are in no way as good at playing the constrictive, grind-it-out game that the Badgers do. The Cornhuskers do it because they are low on talent and need a way to compete. Wisconsin does it as a program philosophy and has been recruiting players for decades to fit the system. But the fact remains that the Hoosiers had to keep their cool and composure and not force the issue against a team that wanted desperately to limit possessions. They waited for the right opportunity to get the pace going and took it. Dictating tempo against Nebraska isn’t the same as dictating tempo against Wisconsin, but there are some ways in which the Hoosiers can use Wednesday’s performance as a model if they get Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament or another grind-it-out squad in the NCAA’s.
WHO SAID WHAT:
“One thing we are trying to make sure that our team continually understands is that to win big, to win really big, you’ve got to be able to play a lot of different ways, and as much as we want to set the pace and tempo, sometimes — you don’t have to have patience — but you have got to wait for your opportunity and as long as you’re playing solid and as long as you’re sticking with what you know works, sometimes those opportunities come when you least expect it or they come when you force the temo just a little bit more defensively because you can. I think tonight was a little bit like that. We kept waiting for he game to go our way in the first half and nobody got discouraged or sped up to the point where we started forcing the action. We probably didn’t get it inside as much as we needed to in the first half, especially where we were in the bonus at the 10:53 mark. I thought we were playign really hard, really solid and just waiting for it ot break and in the second half, they did something about it even that much more. I think that’s the sign of a team that’s maturing and getting better. Like I said to them at halftime, when the score is low because a couple of the guys mentioned we only had X amount of points, we’re not trying to set records. We’re trying to win a National Championship.”
“We didn’t break down and take too many quick jump shots that led to easy baskets for them. We missed some shots, but the other big thing, and you know it as well as I know it, when we don’t turn the ball over, we’re a lot better. Every team can say that, but when you score the points that this team is scoring, when you have the offensive efficiency that they have, which is so highly ranked nationally with that, and you eliminate those turnovers, I don’t know what our points per possession was tonight, but I know it was really high, and they’re starting to really get that. (Graduate assistant) Seth Cooper did a phenomenal job of showing them the value of a turnover, not only to the other team, but how much it hurts us. We had that study for these guys the other day, when we don’t turn it over, we’re an eye-popping 1.47 points per possession That’s unbelievable.”
“That’s just a big part of our offense, period. We don’t want to hang our hats on long jump shots. Any time we can get it in the paint and get some fouls, that’s great for our offense.”
On the 3’s opening up the offense
“I think it changed a lot. They do pack the lane, and when everybody started knocking down open shots, it opened the floor up for everybody.”