Make no mistake about it, the #5 Indiana Hoosiers (15-1, 3-0) 88-81 victory over the #8 ranked Gophers (15-2, 3-1) was as impressive as they come. With that said, Indiana probably could have wished this one at Assembly Hall would have ended a little bit differently.
After shooting 65.6% from the field and taking a 52-29 lead after the first half, the Hoosiers nearly let Minnesota back in the game, as the Gophers cut the margin down to 84-81 before Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford ultimately iced the game with free throws.
“We knew they weren’t going to go away,” said Hoosiers Head Coach Tom Crean after the victory.
“And the thing is, we played extremely hard in the second half after taking a great lead. We didn’t always play as efficient as we needed too, and we weren’t on the attack as we needed to be. But when you out-rebound a team like Minnesota the way they have been rebounding, and when you continue to go hard, when you continue to answer when they have an answer for what you are doing, and it’s then a big win. The difference now, is a year ago, is that we would have been ecstatic with that victory. I want them to enjoy it, but we have different expectation levels now.”
Indiana got off to as good as a start they could have hoped for during the first half, extending a 16-15 lead by going off on a 36-14 run to end the opening half. The Hoosiers made seven threes, forced twelve turnovers, and had seven steals in the first twenty minutes, ultimately making the game look as if it could be a blowout.
“I would say we did a really good job of moving the ball,” said Hulls, who finished with 19 points on the night. “But it was really our defense that got us going. Victor did a great job on the ball getting steals, getting fast breaks, and doing the different things on defense that led to our offense. That’s what we wanted to come in and do, that is what we are going to have to do to keep on winning. But the second half, we can’t accept that, we know we have to play a whole lot better.”
Minnesota came out firing on all cylinders to start the second half, and cut the lead down to single digits with :50 left when Andre Hollins hit a three pointer. Hollins, who finished with a game high 25 points, followed that up with another three to cut the lead down to six with :40 left on the clock.
The Gophers continued to foul at that point, but the Hoosiers couldn’t quite capitalize, and eventually cut the lead down to 84-81 when Victor Oladipo inadvertently fouled Hollins from behind the arc. It was the third time Oladipo had fouled a three-point shooter during the game, but Hollins was only able to convert on two of the free throws.
“As a leader on the defense, I cannot make those mistakes,” said Oladipo. “I cannot make those mistakes. To be honest, I feel like I almost blew the game, that’s just nine free throws that I just let them have. And that last one I have to be more disciplined and stay down. I was being dumb, little mistakes by the end of the game and I shouldn’t be doing that.”
Despite :19 left on the clock and a three-point Hoosiers lead, Minnesota wasn’t out of the game just yet.
Jordan Hulls was fouled on the following in bounds play, and Hulls uncharacteristically missed both free throws on the double-bonus, but was able to gather his own rebound and ice the game in the following attempts.
Despite the slow second half, which ultimately saw the Hoosiers get outscored 52-36, the Hoosiers had solid performances from all five of their starters. Christian Watford finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, Cody Zeller had 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 very big blocks, Oladipo finished with 20 points and 6 rebounds, and Freshman Yogi Ferrell finished with 13 points and 8 assists.
And even though things got close towards the end, the Hoosiers realize not all was lost in the game overall, and this was a stepping stone in a long process that is the Big Ten season.
“We had a good first half, but we’ve got to come out with the same energy in the second half,” Zeller said. “I thought the energy dropped off a little bit, but we’ll be all right. A win’s a win in this conference.”