Indiana men’s basketball head coach Mike Woodson strode into the Hoosiers’ locker room after his ball club’s 74-69 win over Michigan on Friday in the Big Ten Tournament. He had just four words for his players.
“WHAT ABOUT THEM HOOSIERS?!”
His players’ voices rose to meet their coach’s as soon as they heard him, surrounding him in a wave of cheers and applause. Indiana’s coaches, players and fans just needed this one, for so many reasons.
“It was a hell of a game,” Woodson said in a postgame press conference. “It was a total team effort and this team hadn’t quit all year.”
Indiana has gone 3-7 since the start of February and the Hoosiers were left firmly on the NCAA Tournament bubble. They’d had multiple chances to improve their resume before the Big Ten Tournament, all of which slipped through their fingers.
The first, a game against Rutgers on senior night, ended in a 66-63 loss on a last-minute 3-pointer courtesy of Ron Harper Jr. The second, a matchup with rival Purdue in West Lafayette, ended in a hard-fought 69-67 loss.
The Hoosiers’ final hopes lied in today’s matchup against Michigan, their last guaranteed game before tournament play. A win and the dance was that much closer, a loss and the drought may be extended.
And after the first half, this one was looking like a loss.
Indiana was down 41-28. The Hoosiers were left looking for answers to Hunter Dickinson and Davante Jones, who had 13 and 12 points, respectively. Dickinson was able to get past Trayce Jackson-Davis in the paint or drift to the perimeter and take shots there.
Xavier Johnson led the Hoosiers in first half scoring with 8 points, but he spent the final 11 minutes of the half on the bench after picking up two fouls. The rest of Indiana’s lineup scored 18 points without him, but allowed Michigan to score 26 of its own to end the half.
Without Johnson, Jackson-Davis wasn’t able to pick up the slack on offense. Indiana’s leading scorer was held to just 5 points off of six attempts. He simply couldn’t finish at the rim, with the ball bouncing off on a missed dunk or slipping off after an ill-fated layup.
Woodson wasn’t happy with Jackson-Davis’ performance in the first half, and pulled him aside in the locker room to let him know.
“Coach Woody got on me,” Jackson-Davis said. “He told me I wasn’t playing up to my capabilities, but then he said at the same time, basketball’s two halves.”
It was looking like a repeat of the Hoosiers’ 80-62 loss to the Wolverines on Jan. 23 in Assembly Hall. They needed to change, and the beginning of the second half failed to yield it.
With just under 13 minutes left in the game, Indiana was trailing by 17 points. It was looking like another sure loss, the deficit was too great. Then, two minutes later, Rob Phinisee found Johnson open on the fastbreak for a pullup 3-pointer.
Two free throws from Jordan Geronimo and a dunk from Jackson-Davis later and Indiana was suddenly within 10 points with as many minutes left to go in the game. But Michigan had shown it was capable of extending its lead.
Indiana had other ideas.
The Wolverines went without a single field goal for 11 minutes as the Hoosiers began their run all the way to a 71-64 lead with just under two minutes remaining in the game. Shots were falling on offense and Indiana was locked in on defense. Gainbridge Fieldhouse, with a sea of crimson in its stands, erupted as the cheers of Hoosier fans rained upon the court.
“I think the fans were big, even in the first half they were still cheering for us, so that was huge for us,” Jackson-Davis said.
Jordan Geronimo forcing a turnover against Moussa Diabate with 10 seconds left all but sealed Indiana’s win. And if that wasn’t enough, three free throws from Johnson and Jackson-Davis were.
The Hoosiers feel good. This win gives a tremendous boost to their confidence and tournament hopes, but they know that there’s still games to play before Selection Sunday.
“We want to win this whole thing, and that’s what we plan on doing,” Johnson said.