Indiana claims second Big Ten road win

WHAT HAPPENED: Indiana snapped a three-game losing streak with a 61-56 win over Northwestern in front of 8,117 in Welsh Ryan Arena in Evanston, Ill.

The Hoosiers improved to 15-11 overall, 5-8 in the Big Ten claiming their second Big Ten road victory and their first since Jan. 11 at Penn State. Northwestern fell to 12-16, 5-10.

A layup at the end of the first half by freshman forward Noah Vonleh gave the Hoosiers a 32-30 lead at the break, and Indiana began the second half with a 12-2 run to make it 44-32. Northwestern mustered a steady second-half comeback and cut the deficit to 54-50 with 2:21 to go, but a reverse layup by freshman Troy Williams made it 56-50 with 1:59 to go. Northwestern guard Tre Demps hit a free throw to make it 56-51 with 1:22 left, but IU senior Will Sheehey drilled a 3-pointer from the left elbow with 52 seconds left that served as the clincher for the Hoosiers. 

WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Sheehey’s 3-pointer was clearly the shot of the game, and he scored nine of his 12 points in the second half, hitting a pair of mid-range jumpers earlier in the half that were also important. He also had six rebounds and two steals, part of an excellent IU defensive effort that held Northwestern to 38.8 percent shooting and NU senior swingman Drew Crawford to just nine points on 2-for-10 shooting.

Williams had arguably his best game since November, making five of his seven field goal attempts for 12 points. He grabbed four important rebounds, had an assist and, remarkably, zero turnovers in 23 minutes of action. His first three field goals were dunks and that reverse layup was nearly as big as Sheehey’s 3-pointer.

Vonleh was strong as usual with 12 points, eight rebounds two assists and a blocked shot. It wasn’t easy to get him the ball against Northwestern’s pack-it-in defense, but the Hoosiers managed to get him 11 field goal attempts. Sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell scored 12 points, hitting a pair of critical 3-pointers as well.

Northwestern was playing without guard JerShon Cobb (foot injury), but Demps started in his place and scored 19 points. Sophomore center Alex Olah was playing on two sprained ankles according to coach Chris Collins, but he still managed a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.

WHY DID IT HAPPEN: On offense, the Hoosiers fixed just about every mistake they made against Northwestern’s defense the first time. The Wildcats packed the paint in both man-to-man and the 2-3 zone to take away driving lanes, force jump shots and make it difficult for Vonleh to get the ball, but Indiana didn’t fall into the same traps as the last time. There was much better ball movement, player movement and shot selection. The Hoosiers didn’t settle for jumpers unless they were open, they were patient and they reversed the ball and got Northwestern’s defense to move until they could create cracks in it. They didn’t turn the ball over, giving it away just seven times, and they shot 47.1 percent from the field including 50 percent in the second half.

On defense, Indiana took advantage of Northwestern’s depleted roster, but they also moved mostly well in the 2-3 zone. There were moments where they gave up open looks and they were lucky that the Wildcats missed makeable shots, but they made Crawford’s life difficult and kept anyone other than Olah and Demps from getting more than two field goals. Northwestern scored just two points in the first eight minutes of the second half and shot 32 percent (8-for-25) after the break.

Most importantly, of course, the Hoosiers closed. Northwestern came back and there were a number of reasons for flashbacks to creep back in the Hoosiers minds after three losses in the last five games in which they’d held a double-digit lead and blew it, however, they came up with stops and even when they didn’t, they were able to find answers on offense. There wasn’t necessarily an exorcism of demons, but they gained at least some confidence that they could win games like this.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN: This stops the free-fall. Assuredly, no one in the IU athletic department was rooting for a 50-pound plate to fall off the wall on Tuesday because of all of the bad publicity, the petrifying thoughts of what could have happened if that plate had stayed in place for seven more hours before falling, and simply the financial cost associated with bringing in all of the structural engineers who had to look over the entire building. But the week between games seems to have settled this squad, and Saturday’s game was one of their most mature performances of the season. They were patient, they stuck to the game plan, they kept it together when Northwestern answered. In a number of ways this team’s bed is already made because of the previous losses and with four of their last five games coming against ranked teams, it will be more than just slightly difficult to pull off the winning streak the Hoosiers need to slide into the NCAA Tournament. Getting into the NIT is probably going to require more than just a home win over Nebraska, so that’s not a guarantee either. But at the very least, the Hoosiers have steadied themselves for the final stretch, and win or lose, it can be a period where they can grow instead of implode.

WHO SAID WHAT: AUDIO: Tom Crean

AUDIO: Troy Williams and Will Sheehey

AUDIO: Chris Collins

One comment

  1. A win is GOOD! IU is now 5-8 in the B1G. Play great basketball and win the next 5 to go 10-8 and the world has changed! Don’t tell me it’s tough, life IS tough! Don’t tell me that Indiana can’t do it, of course they “could”, the question is “will they”? In sports if you want to be great, you figure out some way to “do it”! Just win Baby!

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