Indiana was in survive and advance mode on Wednesday night against Minnesota, and the mission was accomplished.
In what felt like a must win game in many respects when it came to IU’s NCAA Tournament aspirations, the Hoosiers found a way with a 72-67 win at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Now a high profile regular season finale looms. IU will host Wisconsin on Saturday at noon ET. For Indiana (19-11, 9-10), it is senior day and a chance to cement their place in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. But the Badgers will arrive with a chance to win a share of the Big Ten title.
This was a game of runs. And a game that fit well with head coach Archie Miller’s frequent boxing analogies. Punch. Counter punch.
Indiana went up 11-4 to start the game, only to see Minnesota pull to within 15-13.
Indiana went up 25-15, only to see Minnesota take a 34-32 halftime lead.
Indiana opened the second half on an 8-0 run, only to see Minnesota reclaim a 51-50 advantage.
Finally, IU went up 63-55 and never allowed the Golden Gophers back to within five. The Hoosiers followed their last punch with a knockout as they went up 71-60 with just under a minute to play.
You could argue that Indiana should have put Minnesota away multiple times, and perhaps that is right. But IU had the right answers when it counted the most. This is March, and finding ways to win late is what this month is all about.
In many ways this was a game about the starting lineup. As illustrated by the runs above, the Hoosiers started both halves well, and in the end all five starters scored in double figures.
I asked about the performance of the starters and Miller sticking with that group through the highs and lows this season.
“I’ll tell you this much, the minute you change (the starting lineup), you lose guys,” Miller said. “There’s no reason to do that. Part of it is I think what Joey did tonight, you hang in there, hang in there. It’s not easy to play well every night, but it’s easy to play hard every night. I think Joe played extremely hard tonight.”
Indiana simply dominated the paint when they had the ball. With 52 of their 72 points coming in the lane, the Hoosiers got to the rim all night.
“We’re doing a little better job being aggressive, especially in our last two games,” Miller said. “We were able to get some buckets tonight in and around the basket, which was a good start.
“Minnesota is primarily a one-on-one in the post type team. So you can get in there a little bit. I thought Justin did a good job in and around the basket, getting a couple. Joey, Trayce.”
It was about more than just the big men, however. Indiana’s guards cut towards the goal off of screens, attacked in transition and probed in the half court.
“Rob broke it down a few times, got a couple one-legged layups. Devonte. Al was in the paint a bunch. It’s an aggressive style when you’re attacking the paint,” Miller said.
The Hoosiers were just 3-of-15 from beyond the arc, but they were able to overcome that performance by their dominance inside.
“We didn’t shoot the three particularly well over the course of the game as it went on,” Miller said. “We made some timely ones. For us, we were able to get what we normally get when our guys are playing pretty good, which is a lot of paint touches.”
At 1.06 points per possession, Indiana had its most efficient day since a win over Iowa, highlighting the fact that this can be a productive offense without the three-point shot. Part of the equation is taking care of the ball, and IU had just 10 turnovers against 14 assists.
This was a game about defending All-Big Ten caliber big man Daniel Oturu while also guarding the three point-line. It wasn’t a flawless effort, but the Hoosiers did enough to be effective.
Oturu scored 24 points, but it took him 27 shots to get there as IU was able to impact him just enough with one-on-one coverage coupled with timely help defense.
“We got other guys to help a little bit. There was a lot of challenged balls around the basket tonight. Maybe there was a lot of contact at times, but this is the Big Ten. If there’s no contact, there’s something wrong,” Miller said.
Joey Brunk saw his most extensive action since a game at Nebraska nearly two months ago, and he delivered against Oturu, providing a big, physical presence on the block.
“I thought Joe did a good job of not fouling, the best job of playing as hard as he possibly could,” Miller said. “We were able to bother some things in and around the basket at times on his drives. That’s what we were looking for. Keep Trayce out of a little bit of foul trouble, see if we can hang in there.”
While the Golden Gophers were 7-of-16 as a team from behind the arc, sharpshooter Gabe Kalscheur was just 1-of-6 as IU forced others to beat them.
Indiana forced 11 turnovers against just 8 assists, and active hands led to 7 Hoosier steals on the night.
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
- Final box score and specialty stats
- Archie Miller and IU players post-game
- Richard Pitino post-game
- Todd Leary post-game show
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Joey Brunk* (A-) He’s had his share of struggles, but Brunk was a force on both ends in this one and managed to stay out of foul trouble. Also, don’t underestimate the job he does keeping Trayce Jackson-Davis out of foul trouble by taking on tough assignments in the post.
- Justin Smith* (B) You’d like to see more rebounds in 34 minutes, but Smith was steady on both ends and played within himself offensively.
- Trayce Jackson-Davis* (A-) Miller indicated that the freshman was questionable to even play, but he didn’t show it. Beyond points and rebounds, Jackson-Davis was active with deflections on defense and didn’t have a turnover.
- Al Durham* (B+) The junior co-captain hit big shots, attacked the rim, and distributed the ball well.
- Rob Phinisee* (A-) Beyond an 0-for-3 shooting night from distance, Phinisee was superb, with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, a 4-of-5 night from two-point range, and a great job defending Minnesota point guard Marcus Carr.
- Jerome Hunter (C) An off night for Hunter, whose only contribution to the stat line was two turnovers in 10 minutes.
- Devonte Green (B-) It is clear that Miller is comfortable with Green hunting any open look he can find, but there will be 1-for-6 nights from three under that approach. 3 assists on 1 turnover shows that Green didn’t let that off night impact the rest of his game.
- Race Thompson (B-) Thompson struggled to finish, and no doubt is becoming someone that teams talk about when they game plan for IU.
- Armaan Franklin and De’Ron Davis also appeared in the game.
NOTE: Class of 2021 Ohio based recruiting target Brayden Sipple was at the game.
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