The Hoosiers prove themselves on both ends of the floor, in perhaps the highest-profile match-up of the season.
Indiana faced its biggest test of the season, and did remarkably well against a team that had been chewing up the rest of the Big Ten. Outside of a fifteen minute stretch at Ohio State, no other team in the toughest conference in country had gotten the better of the Wolverines, but IU jumped on them at the start of the game. Indiana hit its first six shots, including going 4-for-4 behind the arc, and that keyed a 26-11 start. Still, Michigan didn't get its #1 ranking for just having a pretty offense, as they took advantage of Indiana's too-frequent turnovers and battled back to only trail by four at the half. Trey Burke's step-back three-pointer in Will Sheehey's eye bears mention here, Sheehey played defense on him about as well as it can be played, and Burke still hit a heck of a shot to cut three points off their halftime deficit.
Indiana slowed the UM offense by defending Trey Burke with multiple defenders, but letting him and Tim Hardaway Jr. take the tough shots, while keeping Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas largely under wraps. Maybe this Crean guy can coach a little bit? Trey Burke broke down the Hoosier strategy a bit in the postgame: "Indiana held the rails tonight. Kind of made us win the game from the point guard and center position. We just have to try to continue to get them good looks within our offense. Indiana did a good job of denying them. It was tough getting them the ball."
Having Jordan Morgan be limited in his return from injury might've helped somewhat as Michigan was playing a lot of freshmen throughout the game. But having Mitch McGary pick up Morgan's minutes might've made the game even more physical, and McGary got 10 points, 7 rebounds, a block, and two steals in 28 minutes. Morgan hadn't been that productive since the conference-opening game/blowout at Northwestern.
One of the most aggravating things was the high number of turnovers by the Hoosiers. After turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, the Hoosiers did tighten up and only commit 5 in the second half. This high number of turnovers meant that the Hoosiers, despite playing tough defense and shooting well, had fifteen (!) less shots than the Wolverines before the late-game fouling began. Still, the Hoosiers played good defense against a great offensive team, and (when they weren't turning it over) executed their offense in a high pressure game. Overall, to my eyes the story of the game was a series of second half gut checks the Hoosiers had to post to win the game.
- Michigan comes out strong to forge a 40-40 tie. Indiana responds well with an 11-0 run. Michigan comes right back with an 11-2 run that leaves the score 53-51 in Indiana's favor. (Going through my mind - "Agh! Why won't you just lose, already?"
- Michigan gets four straight offensive rebounds but comes up empty. Oladipo misses a huge tranistion dunk, and Tim Hardaway Jt. hits to cut the lead to two points. Right at that point, I was thinking, we need Christian Watford in there to start grabbing some defensive rebounds. Right on cue, he checks in grabbed the next two.
- Trey Burke cuts the lead to three, 58-61 with just under five minutes remaining. Jordan Hulls comes down and nails a three a mere fourteen seconds later.
- With IU clinging to a four-point lead, Oladipo gets a the hoop and a whistle at the last media timeout. Tim Hardaway Jr can't believe he got whistled for the foul, calling for a travel on Vic.
- Michigan hits three straight threes in the final minute after shooting terribly from outside. That could've made things a little nerve-wracking, but Hulls hit two free-throws and then Yogi Ferrell hit eight in a row. Yogi was known as a winner when he stepped on campus, and despite being a freshman point guard (low field goal%, high turnover rate), he's showing some of the poise that could make him a star.
Individual Player notes:
- Cody Zeller became a master of the putback dunk tonight. I think he had three? He also scrapped inside and came up with the loose ball with 1:45 left and IU holding a seven-point lead. It didn't turn out to be a crucial difference in this game, but you love it when your star hustles to give you extra possession like that. Statistically, he had a pretty nice line, with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks.
- Victor Oladipo may have missed an opportunity for the dunk of the year, but he could slice through the defense for the dunk of the night, and to cause all kinds of problems for Michigan's defense. And while he may only posted 2 rebounds and 2 steals, he made life miserable for anyone he guarded. Jay Bilas tweeted that Vic played defense on 45 possessions and his 4 different assignments only scored 4 points during those possessions.
- Jordan Hulls hit big threes, had three assists and three rebounds, and nabbed a steal. Furthermore, Michigan tried to isolate him a lot, but as I expected, Hulls did okay out there.
- Christian Watford was exactly what IU needed, a capable rebounder who capitalized on his opportunities to score. I've heard his 14 points and 10 rebounds called "quiet", but IU need good Watford tonight, and they got it.
- Yogi Ferrell played solid defense on Burke, hit two early threes, went 8-for-8 from the stripe, and had five assists. He did have three turnovers, but he will not face a tougher opponent all season long. Not bad at all.
- The bench had a bit of a rough night, as Sheehey played solid defense and grabbed five rebounds, but shot poorly (1-for-6) and had two turnovers. Remy Abell also had a couple of turnovers and missed shots, while Maurice Creek and Derek Elston were close to being trillionaires in their five combined minutes.
- Jeremy Hollowell, however, in his 10 minutes, had an outstanding showing. Posting 4 rebounds, 3 offensive, 3 blocks, 4 points, and an assist with just one turnover and two missed shots was a huge boost for the Hoosiers off the bench. Hollowell looks like he's "getting it" and may be an integral part of this team's defense in the coming weeks.
- For Michigan, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr scored 25 and 18 points, respectively, but needed a combined 40 (!) shots to do it. Beilien also displayed a Matta-like reliance on five guys, with only Jon Horford (nominal starter) and Caris Levert earning 10 minutes. Levert also clearly got a couple of late minutes for fouling purposes, while Jordan Morgan and Spike Albrecht tag-teamed a cool 6 trillion off the bench.
The major question in the Big Ten race is: how do the Hoosiers respond to the win, and Wolverines respond to the loss? If the Hoosiers want the crown, I think they've got to win their next two games, both on the road (Illinois and Ohio State). After that the Hoosiers still have to face MSU, Michigan, and Minnesota on the road, while Michigan's only tough road games are Wisky and MSU. Lurking Michigan State travels to Ohio State and Michigan for their tough games, but otherwise could make a charge as well.
However, I think one of the most outstanding things about this victory is that the Hoosiers aren't just reveling in a key conference victory against a top-ranked team. You've got Coach Crean talking post-game about turnovers and poor shot selection as turnovers. He specifically pointed Sheehey taking a corner three against Hardaway instead of driving against him and trying to get the foul, and Oladipo's quick three late in the game. Despite proving themselves against an elite opponent that would not quite, this team isn't satisfied yet, which is simply awesome to see.