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Indiana holds off Northwestern, 67-59

The Hoosiers recorded their third conference road win, holding off a surprisingly tough Northwestern team down the stretch.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Hoosiers walked away from Welsh-Ryan arena in Evanston with their third road win, moving to 16-2 overall and 4-1 in the conference, just a half-game off the lead behind Michigan State. It feels curmudgeonly to grouse about the Hoosiers the winning again, when they did exactly what you are supposed to do on the road as a superior team. Get up on your opponent by double digits early, and don't let them come back. I mean, simply put, the Hoosiers accomplished their mission. And frankly, Northwestern isn't currently looking like that patsy that they were in the first couple of conference games, as former walk-on Reggie Hearn has assumed a serious leadership role and guards Dave Sobolewski (aka Sobocop) and Tre Demps have stepped up noticeably. I mean, just ask Illinois if they've noticed if NU is playing better. That said, I don't think anyone in Hoosierland was particularly inspired by this win, and there are a couple of problem areas we need to note, but IU did a good job maximizing their strengths, especially early.

I found a quick look at the four factors from this game fairly illuminating. These are "non-official" in that I calculated the percentages, so take with a small grain of salt.

eFG%: Indiana: 52.4%, Northwestern: 46.9%

Turnover %: tied at 11.1%

Offensive Rebounding%: IU 40.7%, NU 24.2%

Free Throw Rate: IU 54.8%, NU 26.5%

The game, by these tempo-free numbers, looks like a rather one-sided affair. IU shot the ball better, didn't get turned over, owned the glass, and hit a lot more free-throws than Northwestern. So much so that you wonder how it was only a five point game late in the second half. And this is the concern. IU is clearly the better team, played like the better team, and yet once again found themselves looking at yet another game that could have possibly been lost in the second half. The durability of the Hoosiers in the second half could be put on the suddenly-meek bench, which is the first significant concern, but I feel Christian Watford is a bit of a microcosm of the team here. IU went to him early and he responded, notching 11 points and 4 rebounds at the half, when Indiana led 31-17. He ended the game with 14 pts and 6 rebs, and one of those points was from an intentional foul in the final minute, recording no assists, steals, or blocks. Sure, you have to give credit to the Wildcats, who came out focused and confident in the second half, and only turned the ball over once. But on the other hand, you have got to create some stops if you want to consistently win on the road.

Some notes on the other Hoosier players:

  • Cody Zeller continues to cement his lottery status with 21 points, 13 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block and assist with only 1 turnover.
  • Victor Oladipo didn't look like he did much until you really start looking at the numbers. He only played 24 minutes due to a corneal abrasion, and still notched 7 points, 6 rebounds (5 offensive!), 5 assists with only 1 turnover, and a block and a steal. Really, Vic was the model of per-possession efficiency.
  • Jordan Hulls started out a little rough from the free-throw line, missing his first three before hitting the next four. He also went a mere 5-for-10 from the field and 1-of-3 behind the arc. That's still better than the last four games, where Hulls has gone 10-for-32 overall (although 6-of-15 from three). He just looks like he's working his way out of a small slump.
  • The bench went 2-for-7 from the field, 2-of-4 from the line, got 7 rebounds, two assists, a steal and two turnovers. They got whistled for 9 of IU's 20 fouls, with Will Sheehey leading the way with 4. Sheehey last broke double figures in the Iowa game, and noone else from the bench has significantly contributed since before conference games begun. On the upside, Derek Elston made his first appearance, even if it was a just a solid trillion.
  • I like the way Northwestern hasn't given up. I think one key to their improved play has been how Jared Swopshire has either been given or has given himself the green light to look for his shot. That's creating problems for the opposition, and who knows? Maybe they can still get to the NIT this year.
  • Given that Indiana will specifically be trying to overtake Michigan as the conference's best team, I didn't like the way the Hoosiers looked passive against the 1-3-1 zone. With the talent on hand here, they've got to aggressively shred that zone.

So, the Hoosiers have now matched their conference road win total from last season just five games into Big Ten play. Next up the Hoosiers host a struggling Penn State team that just choked away a home win over Nebraska. Hopefully, we see some of the issues we've mentioned here start to get worked out on Wednesday.