CHICAGO --- Why can't the defense look like that every game?
It's a fair question, and one many Indiana basketball fans find themselves asking after the Hoosiers' dominant 71-56 win over Northwestern in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday night at the United Center.
It's puzzling, really, that a team so hindered by its defense all year long could suddenly turn in a performance like the one Thursday night. The Hoosiers were together, they were energized, they were focused. It was Indiana's most inspired defensive effort since Big Ten play began, and perhaps its best all season.
After Northwestern scored on its first two possessions of the game, Indiana held the Wildcats to one point and no field goals over the next nine minutes. Even James Blackmon Jr., whose defense has been much maligned all season, turned in a terrific effort on that end.
So, if it can look like that, why doesn't it look like that more than once in a blue moon?
"Youth," said Indiana coach Tom Crean.
Yogi Ferrell had a more detailed explanation.
“We play like that when we’re desperate," he answered. "The Iowa game, Michigan State, even at Northwestern. When we’re down, we play desperate. We get in boys and try to get stops to win the game. We just kind of played like that tonight, just tried to play down even though we were up a little bit.”
OK, that makes sense. And the Hoosiers were certainly a desperate team on Thursday. Lose, and you're likely hosting an NIT game early next week. But win, like they did, and you should be in the NCAA Tournament. I'd call that desperation.
But can the Hoosiers create desperation when it's not there? Can they play like they did on Thursday when everything isn't riding on one game?
Ferrell doesn't know the answer to that question, but he says the Hoosiers are certainly going to try.
“We don’t wanna go home early," Ferrell said. "We just gotta go out there and play til exhaustion. That’s it. ‘You’re tired? Come out, come back in.’ We jut gotta play til the last breath and fight these boys.”