IU begins critical stretch against Penn State

If the Hoosiers hope to make the NCAA Tournament next month, they must take advantage of this upcoming stretch of games. IU hosts Penn State at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Indiana has let back-to-back road games slip away at Nebraska and Minnesota after building double-digit leads in both of them.

Now, if the Hoosiers have any hope of making the NCAA Tournament next month, they must take advantage of their upcoming stretch of games, beginning Wednesday night against Penn State. IU hosts the Nittany Lions at 7 p.m.

After Penn State, the Hoosiers (14-9, 4-6 Big Ten) play at Purdue on Saturday, then host Iowa, then travel to Northwestern. All four are winnable games given the Hoosiers' track record at home. But it starts with Penn State, a team that won three consecutive games before losing at Michigan State and at home to Illinois most recently. Penn State won at Ohio State in overtime on Jan. 29.

"It doesn't matter what their record is, they play with tremendous confidence," Indiana coach Tom Crean said Monday. "They play with a real edge. They get to the basket. They make free throws and they are defending better. You can't look at this team and judge them on percentages, you have to judge them on ability and their ability to create havoc on offense and defense, this is still a team that has the same people that we played against at the beginning of the Big Ten season and they are that much more experienced now."

Indiana won the first meeting between the two teams, 79-76, back on Jan. 11 at Penn State. In that game, Austin Etherington made a critical 3-pointer off the bench to keep the Nittany Lions at bay.

Like many teams this season, Penn State will pack the lane and dare the Hoosiers to shoot. If they're knocking down shots like they did against Michigan, they won't have any problems. If not, it will be another game that comes right down to the wire.

"Defensively, they will sag off players," Crean said. "So we are going to have to be creative offensively because they will do some serious sagging off players. We have to make sure the ball is moving and our bodies are moving consistently during the game, and that we are taking care of the ball."

D.J. Newbill leads the Nittany Lions in scoring at 17.7 points per game, shooting 46.6 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from beyond the arc. Tim Frazier is up to 16.2 points per game on 47.3 shooting and 32.3 percent from 3-point range. Frazier is also averaging six assists and 1.6 steals per game.

For Indiana, Yogi Ferrell currently leads the Big Ten in scoring during conference games. He struggled last time out at Minnesota, though, shooting just 5-of-16 from the field for 14 points.

"He is a tremendous worker and a tremendous player," Crean said. "We have so many guys that spend extra time in the gym. Today, we lifted, practiced and watched more film than we normally watch and there were still guys in the gym after all that was done. Yogi is one of those guys. He continues to work at it at a very high level. He wants to be a great player and he really wants to be a great leader.

"But is it a surprise? It probably means that we need some other guys to make more shots. But is it a bad thing? No, it's not a bad thing at all as long as we are moving the ball the way we need to."

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