Key MomentIn a game with so much action so many moments stand out. Perhaps none was bigger, though, then when Jordan Hulls stepped to the free throw line with 12.5 seconds left and the game on the line. Hulls calmly nailed both free throws by splashing the net on each attempt. It put the Illini in a corner and ultimately put the game away.
When It Was OverIt wasn't over until Brandon Paul's three-point shot clanged off the back iron as time expired, preserving a 52-49 win for the Hoosiers. It was their first victory over a ranked opponent in the Tom Crean era.
MVPNo one shined brighter than Jordan Hulls tonight as the sophomore guard came up big over and over again. Without Hulls the IU offense struggled mightily, but luckily for the Hoosiers he played all but five minutes of the game. The Bloomington native finished with 18 points, including 4-5 from behind the arc and every three he hit seemed to be worth double points to the Hoosiers. They were all huge, none bigger than the two daggers he hit around the five minute mark that extended the IU lead to 46-42. Whether dicing through the lane for tough runners over Illini big men, hitting clutch threes, or just being the straw that stirred the IU offense, Hulls had arguably his finest game as a Hoosier. The result was the biggest win in three years for the IU program.
Why They WonYou can point to several big plays from the Hoosiers down the stretch that finally made the difference between losing a close game and breaking through for a win. However, the reason they won all boils down to defense and hustle. Indiana held the Illini to just 32 percent shooting and allowed them to connect on just 5-20 shots from behind the arc. The Hoosiers played their best team defense of the season as defenders were quick to help inside and rotate out on Illini shooters.
And after getting abused on the boards early in the game, IU kept working and outworked their opponents on the glass in the second half. The biggest key to the game arguably was the job Indiana did on the Illini's two veteran leaders and most dangerous offensive weapons, Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale. The duo combined to shoot just 4-21 from the field and were non-factors in crunch time. Holding an offense with as many weapons as Illinois to just 49 points is truly an astounding accomplishment for this young team.
Biggest SurpriseAt first blush it was that the Hoosiers could pull off an upset like this and finally break through at a time when two key starters are sitting out with knee injuries. But there's actually a bigger surprise coming from this game in my book and that's Indiana's interior defense. Earlier this week the buzz around the program was about Indiana's lack of competitiveness in the paint and poor defense. Some even speculated if it could result in an off-season full of transfers.
Instead, the Hoosiers rebounded from their worst performance of the year at Iowa with their best defensive performance Thursday night. Christian Watford clearly responded to the challenge his coach laid out for him after the Iowa game with a very active defensive effort. Often maligned junior Tom Pritchard matched Watford's energy with his own impressive performance. Once again foul trouble caught up with him, but Pritchard pushed the Illini forwards around and made life difficult for them when he was in there. Both Pritchard and Watford had key blocks of the 7-footer Tisdale down the stretch and it was Pritchard's defense that caused Tisdale to throw the ball and the game away in the final seconds.