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Beating Wisconsin is a much needed bright spot in a season full of blemishes

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For just the third time this calendar year, the Hoosiers beat a Big Ten opponent.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It had been 24 days since Indiana won a basketball game. It had been 54 days since Indiana won a basketball game in Assembly Hall.

Fifty-four.

Fifty. Four.

When searching for a word to describe last night’s double overtime win over Wisconsin, there isn’t a particular one that comes to mind. Cathartic? Overdue? Dare I even say fun? Our own Ben Raphel wrote that Indiana needed to learn how to win again. Last night, they took the first step forward.

The game itself wasn’t all that pretty. Shocking, I know, given the two teams competing on the floor. But there is an inherent joy in beating a Badgers team that has been a bigger thorn in Indiana’s side than any other team this century. And dammit did this program need a splash of joy in its life.

The latter half of the season has been a drag, full stop. There’s no point in litigating out the myriad of reasons that this season has been particularly tough on a lot of the fan base. But for a night, there were a lot of things that should have Hoosiers fans smiling in the office this morning.

First and foremost, Romeo Langford finally had His Moment. The freshman phenom has been good for most of the season, and even great at times. Last night, he had his signature moment in what will ultimately be his only season in the Cream and Crimson when his layup with a second to go in the second overtime sealed Indiana’s first win over Wisconsin since 2016.

On Friday night against Iowa, Romeo had a chance to win it and the end of regulation. He settled for a contested step-back jumper, missing badly and setting off a firestorm online over his choice of shot selection.

“Go to the rim!”

Last night, Romeo went to the rim, capping off a 22-point outing that featured multiple big buckets in the extra periods.

His backcourt running mate also delivered another strong performance as Rob Phinisee continued to show that he’s going to be among the Big Ten’s best guards and a fan favorite during his time at Indiana. If you can get 11 points, four rebounds, four assists, three steals and no turnovers from your freshman point guard, you’ll take that every single night. And that’s what Phinisee did as he thoroughly outplayed Brad Davison.

Justin Smith played last night like he had been reading your tweets and message board posts. He said to take your “soft”, “low bball iq”, and “can’t win with him on the court” posts and shove it. Indiana doesn’t win last night without Smith. He got back to doing what he’s best at—being active around the rim and running the floor for easy buckets. Smith’s 12 points last night were second to only Romeo, and he connected with Phinisee for one of the best highlights of the night.

Smith was great in his own right, and despite an uncharacteristically poor night offensively from Juwan Morgan, the senior still hauled in a career-high 15 rebounds. But those two shouldn’t be the story from the frontcourt. Consider this the boarding line for the Race Thompson bandwagon.

Thompson’s season has been hindered by a concussion that kept him out of action for a majority of the season. As soon as he became healthy enough to play, fans were clamoring for him to see the floor. In his first real chance at extended minutes, Thompson showed he was up to the task last night. He logged 22 minutes, grabbing seven rebounds and spending a lot of the overtimes on the floor thanks in part to the attrition that had hit Indiana’s depth as fouls piled up. However, Thompson’s biggest impact on the game was his defense on Ethan Happ, the Big Ten’s toughest low-post matchup. He showed his knack for being able to defend in the post without the help of a double, and he was able to slow Happ down in a manner that other Hoosier bigs struggled to.

The outcome of last night’s game doesn’t really change the outlook on Indiana’s season. This is not an NCAA Tournament team unless Indiana gets hot down the stretch and rips off a string of wins that stretches deep into the Big Ten Tournament. Which could happen!

For now, bask in the momental joy of beating a ranked team again. Those wins have been few and far between this year. Last night Indiana showed us it can still be capable of great moments, and for a season that has been devoid of them it couldn’t have come at a better time.