No. 5 Indiana rode a blistering first half - one of the best 20 minutes of basketball any team in the country has played this season - to an 88-81 win over 10th-ranked Minnesota in a battle of Top 10 teams Saturday afternoon inside Assembly Hall. It was the first game at Assembly Hall between Top 10 teams since No. 7 Ohio State played No. 10 Indiana in 2000.
Indiana, winners of 18 straight home games, had been waiting to play in a big-time atmosphere since the buzzer sounded Dec. 15 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Butler).
The Hoosiers played like it in the opening half.
Displaying supreme focus and aggression, Indiana put together a pristine first 20 minutes. Off the top of my head, it was possibly the best half I've ever seen an Indiana team play. The Hoosiers (15-1, 3-0) shot 21 for 32 in the first stanza, including 7 for 11 from the 3-point line. Indiana netted an astounding 52 points - all of which came from the starters - and led 52-29 going in to intermission.
Indiana followed up an outstanding first half with a sloppy, error-prone second half, but the 23-point halftime deficit was too much for Minnesota (15-2, 3-1) to overcome despite a furious rally.
The Golden Gophers used a 19-7 run over the final four minutes to get within 84-81, but Jordan Hulls put the game on ice with a pair of late free throws (after missing two in a row and then chasing down his own miss, with Cody Zeller assisting by jarring the ball loose).
Victor Oladipo continued his recent tear. Oladipo hit 8 of 10 from the field and finished with a game-high 20 points, reaching double figures for the 14th straight game. He added six rebounds (and in a stat you won't see everyday, Oladipo fouled a 3-point shooter three times).
Hulls nailed four 3-pointers on his way to 19 points. Watford, in addition to playing stout defense on Minnesota's Trevor Mbakwe, totaled 15 points and nine rebounds. Zeller had 18 points and six boards. Yogi Ferrell scored 13 points and dished out eight assists.
No Indiana bench player made a field goal.
The Hoosiers held a monstrous edge from the free throw line. Indiana was 26 for 40 from the charity stripe while Minnesota was just 12 for 15.
Andre Hollins paced Minnesota - who had won 11 in a row - with 20 points and six rebounds. Austin Hollins and Mbakwe scored 13 points apiece, with Mbakwe pulling down a game-best 10 boards. Rodney Williams and Joe Coleman each had 11 points.
The first half was a sight to behold.
Sparked by Ferrell's creativity, Hulls' shooting and Oladipo's attacking mentality, the Hoosiers ran roughshod over Minnesota.
Oladipo and Hulls combined for 16 points during a key 18-2 spurt that put Indiana ahead 34-17. Ferrell was the driving force, racking up eight points, seven assists and zero turnovers in the first half.
Watford buried a pair of 3-pointers to fuel a half-ending 12-2 spurt, and the Hoosiers took a commanding 52-29 advantage into the break. It marked the sixth time this season Indiana has scored at least 50 points in a half.
Indiana shot the ball extremely well in the first half, especially from the 3-point line (7 for 11), but it wasn't like the Hoosiers were hitting tough shots. For the most part, Indiana was draining open jumpers, with Ferrell repeatedly finding open guys in transition.
Defensively, Indiana bottled up Mbakwe and forced 12 first-half turnovers, many of which led to buckets on the other end.
As pretty and free-flowing as the first half was, the second half was equally as ugly. Reminiscent of the Penn State game, Indiana appeared to lose its assertiveness and motivation in the second half while the opponent turned up its intensity.
The Gophers chipped away at the Hoosiers' lead throughout the second half before making a late surge behind a full-court press.
Minnesota started the half with a 14-4 spree and pulled within 56-43 with 16:04 to go. The Gophers, aided by a handful of Indiana turnovers, strung together a late 19-7 run and made it a one-possession game - something which seemed impossible at the half - at 84-81 with 19 seconds to play.
Forced to foul, Minnesota sent Jordan Hulls to the line and hell froze over - aka Hulls missed both free throws. But Zeller got a hand on the rebound, and Hulls snagged the loose ball before being fouled. With a second chance, Hulls knocked down both free throws to seal the win.
After having a week off between its first three Big Ten games, the Hoosiers have a quick turnaround with a home game against Wisconsin on Tuesday. Indiana is tied with Michigan - who plays at Ohio State on Sunday - atop the Big Ten with a 3-0 league mark.