The game was tied at 40 at half and it was 49-48 Northwestern with just under 14 minutes to play in the game when IU went on a scoreless string that lasted 10 minutes.
Needless to say, the Hoosiers didn’t recover and Northwestern posted a good home victory.
With all of that in mind, and taking into account some of the themes from the first meeting between the two teams this season, here is a look at five keys for Indiana heading into Thursday’s Big Ten Tournament game with the Wildcats.
1. James Blackmon JR. NEEDS TO MAKE HIS PRESENCE FELT
The first time Indiana and Northwestern played, Blackmon Jr. knocked down a 3-pointer 31 seconds into the game to give the Hoosiers a 3-0. It was particularly noteworthy because it was his only made field goal of the game. Blackmon went on to miss his next nine shots in the game including five from 3-point range. He finished with six points in 27 minutes of play.
The bottom line is that Indiana needs to shoot better from 3-point range period (the Hoosiers were 12-of-31 in that game) and that’s not always the easiest of tasks when you’re playing in an NBA arena with a different backdrop like IU will see Thursday at the United Center. Blackmon has been up and down this year but it’s particularly important in this game if he isn’t connecting from 3-point range that he drives the ball to the basket and makes things happen there.
2. Troy Williams NEEDS TO PLAY AT THE LEVEL HE DID IN THAT FIRST GAME
In two games against Michigan State this year, Williams scored a total of four points. He was basically invisible. The Spartans were clearly not a good match up for him. Northwestern, however, is a completely different animal. The first time these teams played this season, Williams scored 21 points and pulled down 14 rebounds. Five of those rebounds came on the offensive end. He drove the ball hard to the basket and Northwestern didn’t have an answer for him. He finished hitting 9-of-16 shots from the field and played 31 minutes.
Williams doesn’t have to have a double-double again but he needs to be a player that Northwestern doesn’t want any part of again.
3. THE Collin Hartman FACTOR
The first time these two teams played Hartman didn’t score. He was a non-factor. But he had a good excuse, too. He was in street clothes for the game nursing a deep knee bruise that kept him out for Northwestern and Iowa. He returned against Michigan State on Saturday and wasn’t at the top of his game but he has now had five days to prepare for this one.
But Hartman could be the ‘x’ factor for the Hoosiers in this game. In the first meeting, IU got very little front line production. Hanner Mosquera-Perea had four points on 1-of-4 shooting. Emmitt Holt played 6 minutes and didn’t score. In fact his only claims on the stats sheet were one rebound and two missed free throws. Hartman will help against Alex Olah (who had 17 and 11 against IU in that first game) and Sanjay Lumpkin, too. If Hartman is playing at a high level he can really help the Hoosiers in this one.
4. SLOW DOWN Tre Demps
Olah had a big game against IU but Demps was the guy that Indiana simply didn’t have an answer for. Now granted, he hit some contested shots but he was 8-for-12 from the field. In fact, he was a perfect 6-for-6 inside of the 3-point line. He had 23 points in 35 minutes and was the show stopper for Northwestern.
So much has been made this week about how IU needs to do a better job on the defensive end and this is true. But it starts with guys like Demps, Olah and Bryant McIntosh (who didn’t have a great game against IU the first time). In that first meeting, IU made 9-of-14 3-point field goals in the first half and scored 40 points but the game was tied at halftime because the Hoosiers played no defense. The defense against Demps and company needs to be markedly improved this time around.
5. YOU CAN’T LET NORTHWESTERN HANG AROUND
This will be true of most teams you play but a team like Northwestern can be even more dangerous because it has it in the back of its mind that it just beat Indiana two weeks ago. That’s why Indiana needs to build a big lead and pull away and not let the Wildcats think they can hang around. There should be enough pressure on the Hoosiers as it is on Thursday with the NCAA ramifications hanging over their heads that they don’t want to let Northwestern have a shot to beat them at the end.