From the class that began with six, only three played Saturday – Luke Fischer now at Marquette, Collin Hartman out with a sickness and Devin Davis not getting off the bench. IU head coach Tom Crean had nothing but praise for his three freshmen starters after the game, despite Stanford Robinson's scoreless game, Noah Vonleh's early foul trouble and Troy Williams's disappearing act after the first few minutes.
"These guys work very, very hard at it," Crean said. "You've got to remember now, we're starting three freshmen. I think it's important everybody – you, the fans, everybody – keep that in perspective now.
"That was not a freshmen group we played against. They went to the third round last year. Our guys went toe-to-toe with that."
And in the opening minutes, it was that same trio making their opponent look inexperienced.
Williams started the game with a mid-range jumper off the feed from Vonleh. Robinson stole the ball at the other side of the court, and the Hoosiers drove down with Williams able to draw a foul and make two free throws. After Andre Hollins made his second bucket of the game to tie it at 4-all, Williams spotted up from beyond the arc and hit his first 3-pointer since Dec. 10 and just his third all season – he's 3-for-21 this season.
He followed that up with a thunderous dunk to put IU ahead 9-4. Off that energy, they would lead 14-4.
Minnesota fought back within two points, but Vonleh's 3-pointer, followed by one from Yogi Ferrell extended it to eight. But with the Hoosiers cruising, Vonleh received his second foul with 9:21 left in the half and would ride the bench the rest of the way in.
Still, with their star on the bench, the Hoosiers maintained their lead, pushing it to 10 points with under a minute to go in the half. On IU's last possession of the half, Williams reappeared, but not in the way he likely would have wanted.
With the ball on the left wing, Williams caught a pass but got caught up in the air and foolishly threw it away to Maurice Walker, who finished the half with a dunk to cut the lead to six.
"At the end of the half, trying to make a play rather than bringing it down cause we wanted to give them minimal time…It's just a matter of him (Troy Williams) getting his fundamentals down and not being in such a hurry."
Robinson took just one shot, scoring no points for the first time since IU's loss to Connecticut on Nov. 22, but Crean said his work ethic has only increased as he's taken on this starting role.
"Stan didn't have a great night, but here's a guy who found a gym on the sixth floor of our hotel. He was there last night, and he was there before the game," Crean said. "Our guys want it. I have no issues with the competitiveness. We've just got to be a little more alert and aware."
In the second half, IU's freshmen weren't the only ones who struggled, as the Hoosiers were outscored by 12, and as a team, they committed more than twice their amount of turnovers in the first half. Still, the trio combined for nine of IU's 16 turnovers on the night with just 14 points after the game's first four minutes.
Although fans may have grown impatient with IU's up-and-down success, Crean said he likes the progress he's seen day-in and day-out, and succeeding in the best conference in the country takes some time.
"It's not a possession-by-possession league," he said. "It's a pass-by-pass league, and that's why it's the best in the country.
"Every situation matters. You may not be perfect, by you've got to be sharp."