Exhale. Indiana ended its 6-game losing streak and won its first Big Ten game of the season
by beating Michigan 80-61 at Assembly Hall. The 19-point margin is the largest of the Crean era against a major conference opponent, and only four games in the Big Ten this season (Purdue's wins against Michigan and Penn State and Illinois's win against Northwestern) have been decided by larger margins. IU made 67 percent of its shots, including 70 percent in the second half, and hit 6-14 three pointers, while holding Michigan to 36 percent from the field and 7-24 from behind the arc. Michigan never led after the first media timeout, and once IU expanded the lead to double digits with 7:09 remaining, it stayed that way for the duration. IU had the Wolverines doubled up at halftime, with a 30-15 lead, and still managed to win the second half. In short: enjoy it. This game doesn't exactly revive IU's postseason hopes (it's a game we would have needed in any event), but it was the Hoosiers' finest performance in a long time. Indiana dominated the boards, grabbing 40 percent of its own offensive rebound opportunities and allowing Michigan only 20 percent on its many, many OR opportunities. Indiana's effective field goal percentage (taking free throws into account) was 74.1 percent, the best of the season and best of the Crean era, and at least 10 points better than any other performance against a Big Ten team in the last 3 seasons. IU's turnover numbers were bad--IU turned the ball over on 25 percent of its possessions after making major progress in this category--but perhaps that's a cost of doing business for this team.
Unsurprisingly, an excellent shooting night yielded a bunch of excellent individual performances:
Jordan Hulls, who didn't shoot the ball at all in the first half, didn't miss once he got started, shooting 4-4 from the field (3-3 from 3) and 2-2 from the line.
- Michigan had no answer for Verdell Jones III, who led IU with 24 points on 9-10 from the field, almost all generated on the drive. Four turnovers, but what else is new?
Christian Watford scored 17 points on 5-11 from the field and 6-6 from the line. He was much more aggressive, grabbing 10 rebounds. Michigan is not a terribly physical team, so it's important not to get too excited about such things, but he looked like a different player than in some recent games.
Tom Pritchard didn't score much, but he had 7 rebounds.
Maurice Creek still isn't himself, but he seemed to be okay after a scare with his knee at the end of the game.
Games like last night used to be the rule at Assembly Hall. It's amazing how nervous I was for most of the game, considering that on the scoreboard, IU had the game in hand by the middle of the first half. I suppose that games such as Michigan's win at Assembly Hall two years ago and Illinois's last year will haunt until IU wins a few like this. Still, this is the improvement we have been asking for, and it came at an important time. IU faces a tall task in the coming week, traveling to Wisconsin on Thursday night, a place where IU hasn't won in over a decade. After that, however, IU heads for Iowa and will have a chance to avenge the Hawkeyes' sweep of last season.