Well it sure as heck wasn't the prettiest thing in the world, but Indiana showed a lot of guts as they battled back from a very early 15 point deficit to win in Happy Valley. The Hoosiers came into this game in a pretty desperate situation. If they didn't walk away with a win here, things could have spiraled out of control very quickly. With a game coming this Tuesday at home against one of the best teams in the nation and our kryptonite Wisconsin, Indiana couldn't really afford to let this one go.
Early on it looked exactly like that's what they were going to do. At the 9 minute mark in the first half the Hoosiers were down 31-16 with Noah Vonleh scoring 12 of Indiana's 16 points. Pretty much no one else showed up to play early. That is until Tom Crean brought on Stan Robinson. Between Vonleh and Robinson's energized play the team as a whole finally got going. At that 31-16 point the Hoosiers went on a 21-10 run to close out the half and looked to be gunning hard for Penn State.
Looking back at the video I still can't be sure what made Indiana click, but suddenly the offense was more fluid. Guys quit standing around watching the guy with the ball and started moving. The offense actually was looking good. The pace was high with limited turnovers and a lot of baskets were results of strong off the ball movement. You know, the kind of basketball many of us expected from the beginning of the year.
In this span we got a big dose of Troy Williams. In the span of 5 minutes we got the whole spectrum of Troy. We got the crazy athletic good and the out of control bad. Here's his affects on the box score from the moment he subbed in at the 9:11 mark and then subbed out at the 4:26 marks. Missed jumper, layup, blocked shot, rebound, turnover, blocked shot, offensive rebound, tip-in, steal, 1-2 free throws, turnover, turnover. As you can see if he can reel in the decision making a little bit he's right on the verge of being an elite difference maker. Still we must wait, as his youth shows a lot when he gets into these runs. Noah Vonleh is quite similar in that regard.
Ultimately we can't thoroughly discuss this game without discussing the contributions of Jeff Howard and Austin Etherington. Both showed they have the ability to not only play late in games but contribute in a big way. Howard was a key cog in the offense to defense subbing of Vonleh late in the game and though he only played 6 minutes it was a key six minutes. I went back and watched the final five minutes again this morning and I think the way that Indiana handled the final run was about as good as you could.
I read a lot of criticisms on Twitter of Howard being in instead of Vonleh but after focusing pretty closely on that in the replay it actually worked quite well. Vonleh's had some problems all year long with rotating and getting lost on defense at times and Jeff Howard has a very high basketball IQ. He didn't get caught over rotating and he grabbed some key rebounds down the stretch. In the meantime with Howard in the game the Lions only grabbed one offensive rebound and it didn't cost anything. Meanwhile Howard hit his free throws and protected the paint from easy buckets. I'm going to give Howard and Crean an A for how they handle themselves late. The offense to defense substituting worked well.
As for Etherington he came through with the biggest shot of the game. With Indiana down two and 1:22 to go Etherington caught a pass in the corner, shot faked as his defender ran by him, took a step back and drilled a huge three pointer. That ultimately ended up being the go ahead bucket, as Indiana never trailed after that. He player strong defense and the offense seemed to move better with him in the game. Yes, he had a low usage rate, but a 200 ORtg in 17 minutes of play to go with 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals, you've got to be ecstatic about his contributions yesterday. Would be nice to get that consistently going forward.
Overall, this game actually wasn't that bad. A disastrous 11 minutes to start the game would have likely sunk them against much better teams, but this Hoosier squad showed some maturity for the first time this season. They've been quite bad at ceasing momentum and running with it this year. Not today however. In the post game conference Crean sounded like he thought this game might have been a turning point for the Hoosiers. I'm not certain I'd go that far, but you have to feel good about this young squad finding the fight in them to battle back.
Next up we have Wisconsin coming to town. No one really thinks Indiana has a big chance of winning this game, but as we know Assembly Hall is apt to generate some magic when highly ranked teams come to town. Plus you know, we're kinda due to actually get Wisconsin for once. Let's hope it winds up with a result like yesterday's.