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Indiana’s heroic comeback saves the season

The Hoosiers saved their best for last.

With the season on the line, Indiana appeared to not come out with enough juice and intensity for a Thursday morning tip in Indianapolis.

Michigan took advantage early and went on a 17-3 run courtesy of nine points from Hunter Dickinson. Much like the last matchup with the Wolverines in January, IU had no answers for him.

However, basketball is a game of runs and the Hoosiers were able to flip the script to not only the game but their season. The team went on a 28-4 second-half run to come back from a 17-point deficit with 12:52 left.

“I just think they came out with more intensity and energy, honestly. They punched us in the mouth and they just kept punching us in the mouth, honestly,” said Trayce Jackson-Davis of Michigan.

“And we carried that over, I think we had a little bit of life kind of going into the first half, and at the start of the second half it was kind of the same way, we really honed in on defense and got stops that we needed and we were putting the ball in the basket.”

Right out of the gate, Parker Stewart initiated the offense for the second half. He scored the first five points of the half with two free throws and a three. But, then the Wolverines countered with an 8-0 run that included back-to-back Caleb Houstan threes to extend the lead to 16.

For a brief period, heads began to bow and the body language of IU seemed like a team in defeat. Every player started targeting their anger at the officials for the 15-5 foul disparity.  Even head coach Mike Woodson picked up a technical foul trying to defend his team. It seemed like Indiana was collapsing, and NCAA Tournament hopes ending.

However, it was the opposite. Something sparked a fury.  The lack of calls seemed to motivate the team to play more physically, which helped them force 10 second half turnovers. Those turnovers led to 17 points, including a steal by Trey Galloway that led to an easy Jackson-Davis dunk.

The play cut the Michigan lead to ten with under ten minutes left in the game, but there was still a long climb ahead.

“I just feel like we locked in. With the last 12 minutes, Coach said we’ve got to get a stop. It’s all about getting stops. We’re scoring, we just can’t get a stop. And everybody looked — everybody held each other accountable for that man, and we just dug in and got stops,” said Xavier Johnson on the defense.

In the first half, the Hoosiers were struggling to find any offense with Johnson on the bench with early foul trouble. It made it worse that Jackson-Davis was also struggling against Dickinson. He had just five points on two-of-six shooting, missing multiple dunks and layups.

However, the duo was resilient. Both of them carried the team on offense. Jackson-Davis finished the game with 24 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks.

“The biggest thing for me is that in the locker room, 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”

“So I went out there, I think it started on the defensive end, I was up, kind of getting in the passing lanes, the ball lanes, and then coming back. And then on offense, having this guy right next to me (Johnson) coming off the screens, getting easy lobs, I think that got me going.”

Behind the two stars of the day, the Hoosiers were able to receive enough help from their role players. Miller Kopp had nine points with three very timely three-pointers. Rob Phinisee gave the team some needed minutes when Johnson was on the bench.

Down the stretch, however, Woodson relied on Jordan Geronimo and Trey Galloway– who just returned from injury– for their defensive presence and energy.

The two played their roles to perfection with two key blocks from Geronimo and three steals from Galloway.

“It was a combination of (Jordan) Geronimo and (Trey) Galloway, having him back, and Rob (Phinisee),” Woodson said.  “You know, we had places to go and during that stretch I was searching as a coach trying to find the combination that could change the game in Geronimo and Galloway and X and then I came back with Miller along with Big Fella, changed the whole dynamics of that game.”

After so many close, heartbreaking losses, the Hoosiers finally broke through and closed out the game with a win. They never relinquished the lead in the final four minutes and now move to 4-6 in games decided by five points or less.

“Well, I couldn’t be more proud of a group of guys because we’ve been striking out,” said Woodson. “When you think about all the close games that we’ve had this season, this is really gratifying in terms of getting over the hump on a major stage, a big game that we had to win.”

As for the NCAA Tournament, after losses to Wake Forrest and Xavier, Indiana should be on the right side of the bubble. However, no one knows for certain how the selection committee will operate.

The Hoosiers will take on Illinois on Friday at 11:30 a.m. Eastern. One more win will certainly cement their chances at the Big Dance.

“I don’t know,” said Woodson when asked if the win over Michigan guarantees them a spot in the tournament.

“The only thing I can say is that if you look at our schedule and how we’ve competed this year, I would like to think that this game would put us over the top, but like I told the guys in the locker room, I don’t know how it works. I’m new at this, but we got to get ready for Illinois and see if we can play like we did tonight the second half and see if we can get another win that might secure us for the big dance.”

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