COLUMN: New-look Hoosiers have fun in throttling Ohio State

With a comeback win over Notre Dame as the ignitor, the Hoosiers have found success in defense, and that has only brought them closer together, closer to accomplishing something worth remembering.

At the time, we knew it was significant. When Indiana came back from 16 points down to beat Notre Dame at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in December, I threw out the possibility that it could even be season-changing. 

Whether it would be or not, I wrote, depended on how the Hoosiers responded after that day in Indianapolis. Would they use the second half as a winning formula to be followed going forward, or would they just as quickly fall back into their old habits?

Well, just three weeks later, we now know that game was indeed season-changing. Change doesn't even seem like a strong enough word for it. Try season-transforming. 

Indiana 85, Ohio State 60. And it wasn't that close. 

What we saw in Indiana's beatdown of Ohio State on Sunday wasn't a mere change from the team we saw in Maui and at Duke. No, it was a complete transformation. A transformation from a team often referred to as INIANA because of its inability -- and quite frankly, its lack of interest -- in playing D to a team using its defense to win. Or at the very least, to make winning easier.

"They're growing up together, which is important," said Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "The simpler you make the game, the better."

Starting with the Notre Dame game, Indiana has won 9 straight and is now tied with Maryland for first in the Big Ten with a 4-0 start in conference play. 

The first three wins were met with cautious optimism by an Indiana fan base starving for basketball success. None of those three teams -- Rutgers, Nebraska and Wisconsin -- will be dancing in March. 

But Sunday's win was of a different breed, the type of complete performance not seen at Assembly Hall in some time. The Hoosiers throttled an Ohio State team that entered on a 7-game win streak and boasted the 16th best defense in the country. And they did it from start to finish, opening with the game's first 10 points and punishing the Buckeyes from there. 

Ohio State's players had quit by halftime, when it trailed by 30. The nationally-televised beatdown was so bad, in fact, that former Buckeye and current Celtics forward Jared Sullinger tweeted that he hoped the Buckeyes lost by 50.

"So they can see feel and experience how embarrassing this effort looks," Sullinger wrote.

Indiana's first half is one that cannot and will not be replicated, not against a team as good as the Buckeyes. I mean, 48-18 -- that ain't a typo. You don't see halftime scores like that in conference play. 

"That was definitely the most fun basketball, in a half at least, that I've played here," said Indiana senior Yogi Ferrell.

Ohio State was bad, yes, but the large deficit was more about Indiana's unrelenting commitment to both ends of the floor -- and its efficiency on both ends -- than anything the Buckeyes did or didn't do. 

Offensively: The Hoosiers moved constantly, shared it selflessly, and shot it exceptionally. They attacked the glass with vigor, and perhaps most importantly, they didn't turn it over (Well, only 5 times).

"We're very unselfish, and sometimes our turnovers have come from trying to be almost too unselfish," Crean said. "Today, we did a much better job of that because they practiced that way."

Defensively: They approached every possession with the same focus and intensity, something Indiana usually only does for short segments at a time. Ohio State had 7 field goals and 11 turnovers in the first half, shooting a dismal 28 percent from the field. During one stretch, the Buckeyes went 9:07 without a field goal.

The Hoosiers had heard Crean and his staff preach the importance of defense every day through the summer and the fall, but for whatever reason, they didn't grasp that significance until that second half against the Irish. It was then that they saw -- with a very tangible example -- that playing better defense could help them beat elite teams. Trying to outscore everybody just doesn't work. 

"I think we're kind of realizing more now how important it is for us to play defense," Ferrell said. "Especially in the Big Ten, where anybody can beat anybody on any given night. If we get stops and not turn the ball over, then we have a great chance of winning."

But even more importantly than understanding the basic necessity of defense, these Indiana players have discovered the energy you can draw from working as one force on that end, and the chemsitry that can be developed in the process. 

On Sunday, we saw a group of guys playing more freely and having more fun than the Hoosiers have had since Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller were roaming Branch McCracken Court. There's a real selflessness to this team of late, and a togetherness I hadn't seen in Bloomington since the Oladipo era.

"When we get defensive stops, we have a little bit of pride to ourselves and we want to go down to the other end and score," Ferrell said.

Indiana has resurrected its season on the defensive end, an idea most would have scoffed at only three weeks ago.

Crean, though, was modest in his postgame press conference, worried less about the team's wide margin of victory and more about his players' continued commitment to getting better. It's a young team, and Crean can't allow them to get too comfortable or confident with its recent successs.

"The most important thing is that we come in here tomorrow and get better," Crean said. "And that's not coach speak, because if it was coach speak, we wouldn't be getting better. I already have a list of four things that are concrete that have to get better over the next couple of days."

The season is young and the sample size, small. The Hoosiers have played the second-worst Big Ten schedule through four games, and there are many more tests on the horizon.

But damn, Indiana sure looked like a contender on Sunday. 


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