For 14 of Indiana's 15 regular season games this year, Tom Crean has utilized the same starting lineup of Yogi Ferrell, Jeremy Hollowell, Troy Williams, Will Sheehey and Noah Vonleh. Lately, though, fans and some media members had dealt criticism to Hollowell's inconsistent efforts during his time on the floor.
Coming into Saturday's game, the sophomore guard was averaging the third-most minutes on the team behind Ferrell and Sheehey, the two seasoned starters on this squad. Hollowell, though, was second on the team in turnovers and becoming stagnant and unreliable as a scorer.
Crean left last Saturday's press conference after the loss to Michigan State saying that his sophomore class had something to prove. Unlikely talking about Ferrell – IU's leading scorer – that statement was likely indirectly targeted at Hollowell, and for the second time this season, Hollowell was replaced in the starting lineup, this time by graduate student guard Evan Gordon.
The difference today, though, was that Hollowell never even took off his warm-ups while riding the bench for the entirety of the battle.
After the game, Crean said Hollowell sitting out was a coach's decision rather than an injury, but something major must have happened this past week during practice for Crean to pull a starting sophomore for the whole game with the importance of IU getting a win as high as it had been all season.
"He just needs to get his focus ready. He just needs to build his focus," Crean said of Hollowell after the game.
With Hollowell sitting out Saturday's action, Crean played just seven players in double-digit minutes against Penn State: the starting five (Ferrell, Gordon, Williams, Sheehey and Vonleh), Stanford Robinson and Austin Etherington. Hanner Mosquera-Perea (six minutes), Jeff Howard (six minutes) and Devin Davis (two minutes) played smaller roles to aid in IU's victory.
Both Ferrell, Sheehey and Vonleh played slightly higher than their averages in minutes this season, but Robinson and Gordon both saw double-digit increases in their minutes Saturday to make up for Hollowell's 23.3 minutes per game.
Robinson, who was averaging 11.7 minutes per outing coming into Saturday, finished with nine points, four rebounds, one assist and one turnover in 22 minutes of action. Last week, he saw his highest minutes of the season (26) while scoring a career-high 11 points.
Gordon, who has averaged 20.7 minutes per game up until Saturday, was on the court for 35 minutes in his starting role against Penn State. He scored eight points off of 2-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc to go with four rebounds, one assist and one turnover.
Sheehey, Ferrell struggle in the first half, pull through in final 20 minutes
After IU's 73-56 loss to Michigan State last Saturday, Spartan head coach Tom Izzo said that it was time for Ferrell and Sheehey to step up and take over for the Hoosiers in order to salvage IU's season.
In the first half against Penn State, the duo looked far from team leaders on the court. They combined to shoot 2-for-12 from the field for just six points. Ferrell had all six. Neither scored a point until Ferrell hit the second of two free throws after a technical foul on Penn State's Ross Travis with 7:55 left in the half. His first field goal took more than four more minutes.
But both came out firing in the second half as IU caught up and briefly stormed ahead of the Nittany Lions. Sheehey made IU's first bucket in the second half, a layup, to bring the Hoosiers within two points.
After a 3-pointer from Vonleh, Sheehey hit one of his own to give IU the team's first lead of the game – a brief one that lasted only a few seconds before Penn State's D.J. Newbill hit his own 18 seconds later to take the lead back.
Ferrell's big bucket came with 7:38 left to play when he knocked down a 3-pointer to tie IU's largest lead of the afternoon at six points, 59-53. Although Penn State came back to tie and take the lead a few times, both players came through when it mattered most, scoring 10 of IU's final 20 points to seal the victory.
Vonleh scores career-high 19 points
As Ferrell and Sheehey struggled early on in IU's 79-76 victory in University Park, Pa., Vonleh took the team on his back to keep the Hoosiers within striking distance until things began to click for the rest of his teammates.
IU fell into a double-digit hole early, trailing 17-4 just 4:20 into the action, but Crean's players look improved in getting the ball inside to Vonleh, who twice knocked down a hard-earned bucket inside while drawing a foul and hitting the free throw. He hit a shot from beyond the arc to bring the deficit to single digits at 19-10 and made two more free throws a few possessions later.
The freshman forward went scoreless the rest of the half, but the rest of his teammates picked up the slack to get IU back within four points at halftime. Vonleh added seven more points in the second half, including another 3-pointer, to finish with a career-high 19 points along with six rebounds to lead IU in both categories.
Previously this season, Vonleh scored 18 points twice in back-to-back games against Stony Brook and Washington.