Indiana’s NCAA Tournament resume just got a big shot in the arm.
Just as important, a team may have just realized what they are capable of when they buy-in and play with unquestioned effort.
The Hoosiers claimed just their second true road victory of the season with a convincing 68-56 win over Minnesota on Wednesday night. Qualifying as a quadrant one victory under the NCAA’s NET system, the Hoosiers significantly bolstered their postseason profile.
IU has five regular season games remaining, three of which will be at home. Now the challenge will be to build on their effort against the Golden Gophers and carry momentum into the Big Ten Tournament.
Indiana (17-9, 7-8) will return home for a game against No. 9 Penn State on Sunday. That contest tips at Noon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington.
After a sluggish start that was reminiscent of the loss to Michigan on Sunday, Indiana put forth an unfamiliar road effort the rest of the way.
After trailing 23-13 with eleven minutes to go in the first half, IU would go on to dominate Minnesota, outscoring them 55-33 the rest of the way.
Senior guard Devonte Green got things started with a 3-pointer with 10:37 remaining in the first half, as he sparked a 6-0 run that helped the Hoosiers claw to within 23-19 at the 9:14 mark.
Two free throws by Green put the Hoosiers up for good with 14:34 left in the game, 39-38. Green followed by hitting a 3-pointer on the next possession as part of a 7-0 IU run.
With the Hoosiers leading only 60-56, IU went on a decisive 8-0 run, capped off by a freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis layup with :59 remaining to seal off the win, 68-56. If this games marks a turning point in the season, that closing run, on the road in a game Indiana needed to win will be remembered as a key moment.
Indiana has struggled all season to put their foot on the throat of opponents and finish all season, but they did it on the road on Wednesday night against another team that was fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives.
With his team struggling coming into the game, head coach Archie Miller has had to preach only looking forward, with a 1-0 mindset.
“Like I told the team, at this time of year you’ve got to be numb to it,” Miller said.
Win or lose, the Hoosiers will need to stay focused with a top ten opponent coming up next.
“We have obviously a really good Penn State team on Sunday at home,” Miller said. “Home opportunities are the ones you want to get, but there is so few of them left so we’re going to have to be ready to go on Sunday.”
Throughout the season many have wondered why Indiana hasn’t tried to create more opportunities for Jackson-Davis. On Wednesday night, Indiana entered the contest on a mission. Feed the big man.
“Offensively, our main goal was to get Trayce going early,” Miller said. “He is so important to our team, and he responded with a great performance.”
WIth Jackson-Davis leading the way with career highs of 27 points and 16 rebounds, IU outscored Minnesota in the paint 34-24.
IU had struggled with turnovers throughout much of a stretch that saw the Hoosiers lose 5 of 6. On Wednesday night at Williams Arena, the guards played with composure while still looking to push the tempo.
While it wasn’t a great shooting day for IU (44.4 percent), a low turnover count helped to maximize possessions.
“I thought the big thing was we didn’t freelance as much tonight,” Miller said. “We didn’t let our transition game just take over where a lot of guys were handling the ball. I thought we controlled it, I thought our guards did a really good job of keeping things under control on the road. Keeping it close on the road is important in this league, and if you just look at our assist totals, 15 assists to 10 turnovers, that was big.
“The ten turnovers is what I’m most proud of on the road.”
Minnesota started the game 9-of-11 from the field, and it looked like the Hoosiers might be in for another long night on the road.
But then something clicked defensively. The Golden Gophers would make just 12 of their final 50 attempts as Indiana made adjustments and just simply forced Minnesota to work harder when they had the ball.
“The first 8‐10 minutes, it was really tough sledding for our guys defensively, but give our guys credit, that was when they really figured out how to make the game a little bit grind‐mode, a little bit grimy,” Miller said.
One adjustment was how Indiana defended high ball screens. Early in the contest Minnesota slipped their big men to the basket before Indiana could recover after hedging on those screens. That created two-on-one opportunities after the Golden Gopher guards raced past the hedge. As the first half wore on, Miller and his staff dialed back how far out they covered those actions.
“The adjustment was to not get as extended on their system and what they do,” Miller said. “Our system wasn’t able to be executed on Sunday against Michigan and our guys lost confidence. I thought in this game to start the game we needed to be a little bit more reserved and more compact with our defense and not as spread to see if we could hang in there on the glass a little bit better against this team.”
Another difference from Sunday was the ability by IU’s guards to stay in front of the ball. While Michigan was able to break down Indiana off the bounce and make things look easy, the Hoosiers were much more effective on the ball and were thus able to play their style.
“That was one of the missions going into today’s game was to make it look ugly,” Miller said. “We were gonna have to make it look ugly, we couldn’t let them get in transition, and we were gonna have to find a way to defend.”
After the fast start by Minnesota, the Golden Gophers barely averaged a point per minute over the final 31 minutes of the game. IU allowed just .827 points per possession for the game, their second best effort of the season in league play, and fourth best overall.
Perhaps most important, Indiana held it all together in the final minutes — something that they have not always been able to do, including in home losses to Arkansas and Maryland.
“In the second half, especially the last 8‐10 minutes defensively, I thought our guys did a really good job sticking with it, not letting them get a big run,” Miller said.
For the game the Hoosier defense held the Golden Gophers to 21-of-61 (34.4 percent) from the floor and 4-of-25 (16.0 percent) from behind the arc.
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Joey Brunk* (B) Whether matchups or a changing of the guard, Brunk started but played just eight minutes and had little impact on the game. He could be seen verbally encouraging his teammates from the bench throughout the game, however.
- Justin Smith* (B) While he wasn’t a major factor statistically, Smith did a nice job defending Gopher sharpshooter Gabe Kalscheur and played within himself offensively, shooting just one three-pointer and committing no turnovers.
- Trayce Jackson-Davis* (A+) The freshman big man just took over the lead for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Jackson-Davis recorded his eighth double-double of the season, and notably Indiana has won all eight of those games. Jackson-Davis dominated the matchup against All-Big Ten center Daniel Oturu on both ends.
- Al Durham* (B+) Durham was steady and sharp offensively with four assists and no turnovers. While he struggled at times defensively early, the junior guard improved over the course of the game.
- Rob Phinisee* (A-) Phinisee played perhaps his best on-the-ball defense of the year against a very tough cover in Marcus Carr. The sophomore point guard facilitated the offense well with six assists but he has to be a more ready shooter when catching the ball out of the post.
- Jerome Hunter (B) While it was a quiet night statistically, Hunter played with good energy and had a highlight reel block on Oturu that energized his team.
- Devonte Green (B) While a 3-for-9 day from the field with three turnovers isn’t Green’s best effort, timely is the key word here as the senior captain made several big shots to keep IU in the game early when it could have gotten out of hand. He was steady down the stretch as well.
- De’Ron Davis (B) A quiet day for the senior big man, but Davis was able to bang on Oturu for 10 minutes and contribute to the effort of slowing down the Minnesota star.
- Race Thompson (A+) What a night for Thompson playing in front of his family in his hometown. The redshirt sophomore played with a grittiness and effort level that this team needs, and he adds a level of athleticism and versatility to the frontcourt that makes Indiana more dynamic.
- Armaan Franklin (B) The freshman was in the game for key stretches and was steady on both ends despite not making major statistical contributions.
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