One of the strange characteristics of the last few years has been the inability to watch an IU game with any confidence. If this game had happened when I was a student (and I was at IU from 1992-93 through 1996, a solid but not glorious time for the program), I would have been comfortable from the time IU extended its lead to 12-6 five minutes into the game. Instead, with an 11 point lead and five minutes to go, I found myself pacing, pounding my fists, tapping my feet, and so on. At that point, I tried to tell myself that I needed to calm down: while IU's previous two teams had blown home games with bigger leads than that, this one hadn't. Well, my instincts proved more prescient than my logic. The Hoosiers led wire to wire, and by as many as 16 midway through the second half, but the Gophers, with a furious comeback, kept the game in doubt until the final buzzer, when a Blake Hoffarber three point attempt that was on line (the Minnesota bench thought it was good, and so did I) bounced harmlessly off the front of the rim. Less than two weeks ago, after the debacle at Iowa, I and other IU fans wondered if the Hoosiers would win another game. Since then, IU is 2-1, all against ranked opponents, and with the one loss coming at Michigan State in overtime. Certainly, these games against ranked opponents aren't equivalent to games against Ohio State or Purdue. I'm fairly certain that Minnesota and Michigan State (stomped by Iowa last night) have made their final appearances in the top 25. Still, despite mounting injury problems, IU has played hard and effectively. All three games came down to the wire, and neither 3-0 nor 0-3 would be a stretch, but we made it through at 2-1. Not bad at all.
Here's the box score
. This was an even game, not just on the scoreboard, but in nearly all statistical categories. IU had a slight edge in shooting (39-37). Minnesota had the edge from behind the arc (33-20). The Gophers had a slight edge in offensive rebounding percentage (41-37). IU was slightly better on turnovers (9-10, or 15.6% to 17.3%). Minnesota shot more free throws (they were 11-22) but IU made more (13-15). Given the completely different physical attributes of the teams, each coach went with a zone defense. IU's zone was surprisingly effective against the Minnesota big men, until Ralph Sampson III
began draining 15 foot jumpers. Minnesota did a nice job of preventing a flurry of three pointers by IU. Still, when it came down to it, the Hoosiers bent but didn't break, and it was solid defense that forced the errant pass that forced Hoffarber to be off-balance when he tried to tie the game at the buzzer.
From an individual perspective, the stories were Tom Pritchard
and Verdell Jones III
. Jones, playing for the first time in four games, scored 12 points on 4-7 shooting, including 2-3 from deep (he said being immobile gave him time to work on his three point shooting). He had three turnovers, but overall, Jones was a positive and essential presence against the team that he spurned in favor of IU back in 2008. Tom Pritchard, simply, was a beast. His tomahawk dunk off Jones's one missed three pointer was rated ESPN's play of the night. He scored 12 points on 5-5 from the field and 2-2 from the line. He had 7 rebounds and no turnovers. His teammates say that this is the Tom Pritchard they see in practice. Hopefully he will continue to appear publicly.
Derek Elston was effective, with 8 points and 6 rebounds;
Matt Roth scored 9 on 3-10 from behind the arc;
Jordan Hulls is in a bit of a shooting slump (3-9 from the field, 0-5 from three), but his more aggressive play is paying off. He had 6 assists and 1 turnover.
Daniel Moore made almost no impact in the stat line (1 foul in 11 minutes), but his mistake free play was and will be crucial for the Hoosiers. With all of the injuries, we will need his minutes. He's not a playmaker, but doing no harm while Hulls or Jones takes a breather has some value.
This has been a maddening team at times, but despite being without their two most talented players, the Hoosiers are holding it together. They are finally understanding how hard they have to play at both ends of the court. It sounds cliche, but they are learning to play together. One thing that struck me last night was to what degree these guys are now on the same page. Snap-judgment passes that would have ended up in the stands a month ago now are finding the intended recipient. We still are young, and there still will be some personnel limitations in upcoming games. But we're getting better. Iowa, playing very well and owner of a three-game winning streak over IU, is next.