Finally, some defense. IU posted its best win to date of the Crean era despite the Hoosiers' worst offensive performance of the season. IU's points per possession (.87) and effective field goal percentage (42.7) were the worst of the season, and in turnovers (25.2 percent) they were close. IU shot only 37 percent from the field and was badly out-rebounded on both ends of the court. Had any of us had access to IU's offensive line before the game, we would have predicted a bloodbath. Fortunately, IU gave its best defensive effort in years, and Illinois was just a little worse than the Hoosiers offensively. The result was IU's first win over a ranked team in three years and a disheartening loss for the experienced Illini.
The bright spot offensively for IU was Jordan Hulls, who scored 18 points, thanks in large part to 4-5 three point shooting. No one else had particularly pretty offensive numbers, but Tom Pritchard, with what hopefully will be a confidence builder, put IU ahead for good late in the second half with his tip in of a Hulls miss. Jeremiah Rivers was a beast defensively, and the entire team in general did a good job. There's no doubt that Illinois was off and missed some open shots, but those are the breaks. We did just enough to win, and that's what matters. This was an unevenly called game, thanks to the inexplicable presence of Ted Valentine, but I didn't think it weighted particularly in favor of one team or the other.
Well, after the most depressing performance of the season, IU bounced back nicely. Uneven play is a hallmark of young teams, and we probably will face more disappointment as the season continues, but I think we're better off than could have been imagined two weeks ago. IU has won two of its last four Big Ten games, and one of the losses was a hard fought loss in Madison that IU led for most of the way. As I said in the comments below, one of my primary hopes for this team was that we would be a tough out at home. With the glaring exception of the Penn State game, that has been the case (I can't consider the loss to Ohio State a bad loss). The next three games will be an interesting test. IU travels to East Lansing on Sunday. Michigan State is struggling home and away but is desperate for a win, and an IU win there would be a major upset. The tone for the rest of the season will be set by the two games that follow: home games against Minnesota and Iowa. Wins in those two games would keep IU's postseason hopes alive, but the Hoosiers probably can't afford a loss in either of those games. Still, let's try not to get too far ahead of ourselves. Last night's win was a rare high point for a struggling program, so let's enjoy it for what it is rather than worry too much about what it all means.