IU Insider Blog: A must win by any name

Call this one what you want but the Indiana victory over Illinois Sunday felt like as much of a must-win as Indiana has encountered this season. Had IU lost, the Hoosiers would have been 2-5 in conference play but even worse 1-3 at home in the Big Ten. A 3-4 record B1G record and 2-2 at home sounds a lot better for IU fans.

Tom Crean said following Sunday's 56-46 Indiana win over Illinois that he doesn't like to look at games in terms of "must-win" scenarios.

He did allow, however, that Indiana and Illinois were two desperate teams needing a victory to get back in the hunt.

But whether this was a must-win or not in the coach's eyes, my thought is it was absolutely a game that Indiana had to win.

Lose this one, and you not only drop to 2-5 in Big Ten play but you go 1-3 in conference home games.

If Indiana wants to qualify for postseason play one would think it is going to take at least a 9-9 conference record.

To do that, Indiana has to go at the very least 5-4 at home. A 6-3 conference home mark would be much better. If you could do that then you would only have to steal two more conference road victories (IU has already beaten Penn State on the road).

But following Sunday's win over the Illini, Indiana is now 2-2 at home in Big Ten play with five conference home games to play. Those five opponents (in order) are Michigan, Penn State, Iowa, Ohio State and Nebraska. It's not going to be easy to get those six conference home wins. Five will even be difficult.

Still, imagine what the climb would have look like had the Hoosiers lost to Illinois.

No, there's no question, must-win or not … this was a must-win.

So how did Indiana pull this one out and manage to win it down the stretch. Here are a couple of the bigger plays:

*** Indiana led 50-44 when Austin Etherington missed a 15-foot jumper late in the shot clock with 2:24 to play. Jaylon Tate snagged the rebound for the Illini.

But on the other end, Nnanna Egwu missed an 8-foot jumper that could have cut the lead to four. Etherington got the rebound.

*** With the score the same, Illinois had another chance to cut into the IU lead. This time Etherington had missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Tate came down and put up a floater in the lane that was tipped by Noah Vonleh. It resulted in an air ball and Will Sheehey corralled the rebound.

*** That started the Yogi Ferrell parade to the foul line. He would get there six times in the final 66 seconds and convert all six. When Ferrell, an 85 plus percent free throw shooter on the season, gets to the line it's money. That's the way it was Sunday as he made all eight of his foul shots.

There were plenty of solid performances to go around in this one despite the fact that only two players for IU scored in double figures: Ferrell and Stanford Robinson.

But this one wasn't so much about individual accomplishments but rather the fact that the team got it done.

The team rallied Indiana to a huge Big Ten victory.

A victory, that in this reporter's eyes, was as much of a must-win as could be imagined at this point in the season.

Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch

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