In what may have been the last major tossup game of the non-conference schedule, IU overcame a 7-point second half deficit to gut out an excellent road win against NC State in Raleigh. This was, above all, a very entertaining game marked by scoring runs by each team. The Hoosiers exploded out of the gate, leading 25-14 with 14:00 left in the first half. NC State slowly whittled that lead away, and took its first lead at the buzzer on a CJ Leslie tip-in. IU hung with the Wolfpack throughout the second half, when NC State suddenly found itself with a 7 point lead with 7:48 to go. I'll admit that I thought IU was toast at that point, but IU then finished the game the way it started, going on a 30-12 run to finish things.
One of the key moments of the late IU run is a call that certainly agitated the NC State crowd and probably will be discussed for a while, and that was the "flagrant 1" foul called on NC State's Scott Wood with about three minutes later. It was interesting that ESPN's Mike Patrick and Len Elmore seemed completely unaware of the NCAA's switch to the flagrant 1/flagrant 2. The flagrant 1 is simply the same as the old "intentional foul." Further, they seem to be calling it a bit tighter this year, although I can't find any official "emphasis" documentation. Regardless, this was a huge swing, Oladipo hit one of his free throws, and the Jordan Hulls hit two more to give IU a six point lead. After the point at which NC State led by 7, IU shot 7-9 from the field and 14-16 from the line, and that was that. Here's the box score. For the game, IU was 19-23 from the line, just a shade under 50 percent from the line, and 7-13 from deep. Rebounding continues to be a concern. IU allowed NC State as 42 percent OR percentage while rebounding 37 percent of its own OR opportunities. As with everything else, IU excelled in the final seven minutes, grabbing 8 of 9 DR opportunities and 2 of 4 OR opportunities. That means the rebounding stats were even more in NC State's favor for most of the game. On turnovers, IU was pretty solid on offense, turning the ball over 17 percent of the time (13 in a 73 possession game), and while NC State's percentage of 20.5 is IU's lowest defensive turnover percentage of the season, we still have been in the black on turnovers in every game so far.
Individual performances of note:
- This was the first game in which IU truly leaned on Cody Zeller, and he responded well. Zeller scored 19 on 8-14 from the field (including 5-10 from the field). This was by far the roughest game he has seen down low, and I thought the officials swallowed their whistles a bit. Regardless, he was very solid, and his breakaway dunk and a couple of the post moves he made were jaw-droppingly skillful for a player his size.
- Jordan Hulls had a game-high 20 points on 6-9 from the field, including 3-4 from deep and 5-5 from the line. Hulls is still perfect for the season from the line, and is starting to do a better job drawing fouls.
- After some criticism, Christian Watford had an excellent game, scoring 16 on 4-9 from the field, 3-5 from deep, and 5-6 from the line. Obviously, the current hole in his game is interior scoring--he was only 1-4 from two point range--but Watford is playing much harder and more effectively on defense and on the boards. He led IU with 9 rebounds.
- Although he played only 8 minutes, Remy Abell made a nice showing. The freshman scored 5 points and had a steal and a rebound as well. That was nice to see.
Well, I'm giddy. It's December, IU is undefeated, we have two road wins, and our closest margin of victory has been 11 points. The Hoosiers have taken care of business against the lower tier teams on the schedule, avoided a trap game at Evansville, manhandled Butler, and won on the road against an NC State team that seems pretty solid both on paper and by the eyeball test. If IU can beat Stetson this weekend, then the Hoosiers will be undefeated when they host top-ranked Kentucky on December 10. We had some discussion in the game thread last night about whether this is a "resume game" for the NCAA Tournament selection committee. It's obviously premature for a program that has won only 8 conference games in the past three seasons to start talking Tournament, but I think this will be an important win. First, it's one of only two road games on the non-con schedule, so by default it is one of our more important games on the schedule. If NC State has a good season, all the better. Even after last night's loss, Pomeroy still projects the Wolfpack as a 18-13, 8-8 team. If they live up to that, then this will be a solid win. More importantly, if IU can handle middle-of-the-pack teams on the road with regularity, then we aren't going to be as worried about such "resume games."
But I'm getting ahead of myself. There is a long way to go, and the Big Ten is going to be tough again. Ohio State and Wisconsin are by far the top two, and it's really tough to distinguish among Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, IU, and Illinois. There's been a lot of talk (particularly from Purdue fans) about Crean's Big Ten road record, but I think that is a red herring. The most important thing for IU is to take care of business at home, beating all of the lower and middle tier teams at home and not going winless at home against the top teams. Still, I like what I have seen from IU on the road. In the games at Evansville and NC State, the Hoosiers were utterly fearless from the opening tip and built significant leads in both games. Against NC State, obviously, that went away, but IU responded with its best closing stretch of the Crean era. This was the first time since 2008 that IU had won a game it trailed at halftime or that it trailed at the final media timeout. We're not there yet, but this is significant progress. Congrats to Coach Crean and the team, and thanks, guys. This is fun again.