COLUMN: Indiana as complete as any team in the country

Indiana earned its signature win of the season with a 85-78 triumph over No. 5 Iowa on Thursday night. The Hoosiers are in a three-way tie with Iowa and Maryland for first place in the Big Ten.

The result was not surprising. When Assembly Hall is electric in the way it was on Thursday night, nobody beats Indiana. Ever.

Indiana 85, No. 5 Iowa 78. Call it the Assembly Hall Effect.

The tombstones of past victims sit in the dark hallways of the building. Maryland, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan ... Kentucky. 

Minutes after Indiana (20-5, 10-2 Big Ten) lost at Penn State on Saturday night, I tweeted that IU would beat Iowa. No doubt in my mind. There are certain games that you can expect a crazy environment, and Indiana never loses such games.

But Thursday night's game was different than the others before it. The script usually goes something like this:

  • Build a first half lead
  • Go on a big run 
  • Crowd gets loud
  • Opponent calls timeout
  • Opponent loses spirit
  • Indiana runs away and hides

The first four things happened on Thursday. Indiana jumped out to a lead, went on a run to build it to 16, Iowa called timeouts, and the atmosphere was hostile.

"It was excruciatingly loud," Tom Crean said. "It was tremendous."

The Hawkeyes (19-5, 10-2) went off script, though, when they responded with a number of runs of their own to slice into Indiana's lead, and eventually erase it. They didn't lose their spirit, and they certainly weren't afraid of the environment. 

Iowa took its first lead with 17:22 to go (47-45), and the Hawkeyes had the fans on edge when they carried a lead for much of the second half. The Hawkeyes led 60-56 with 9:35 left, and Indiana's offense was stuck in neutral. Iowa had taken Indiana's strong punch and responded with several body blows of its own. The Indiana players looked exhausted. The Hawkeyes were preparing for the knockout blow. 

It never came.

Indiana quickly tied the game on buckets from walk-on Harrison Niego and Max Bielfeldt, and the Hoosiers led for the final 8:10 of the game.

"The crowd helped us, let's be honest about it," Crean said. "They stayed really strong with us. But we've been in some real battles. They're growing up. The energy is high. Sometimes the energy may be a little negative, especially from me, but it's going to be high. Tonight it was real positive energy the whole way."

And so, Indiana has its signature win of the season, and remains firmly in the mix for a Big Ten title. The Hoosiers are in a 3-way tie for first with Iowa and Maryland with six games to go. 

"A big part of it was coach Crean in the huddles. He kept telling us, 'We're going to win this game, we're going to win this game,'" Ferrell said, "I felt like, looking around, guys believed we were going to win this game. We were definitely with him on that. They hit us in the mouth a little bit, but we stayed connected. You can't get down and crumble. You've got to get back up and keep fighting."

The way in which Indiana won is as significant as the victory itself, which is why it will carry more value than just a number in the win column.

Consider:

Thomas Bryant dominated Iowa early -- he had 4 offensive rebounds in the first 4-plus minutes -- but he was mostly a spectator after that due to foul trouble. Bryant had 10 points and 7 rebounds but played only 14 minutes, well below his season average. And Yogi Ferrell, Indiana's best player and one of the most consistent guards in the country, shot just 2-of-12 from the field and had only 1 assist. 

Two of Indiana's three leading scorers had rough nights, and yet it found a way to beat a legitimate top 5 team. This was not one of the "Assembly Hall Effect" games of the past. This win has staying power because it's proof that Indiana is as close to a complete team as any other in the country.

The roles are very clearly established, and with each passing game, the Hoosiers are getting better at filling those roles. Nick Zeisloft made three 3s. Collin Hartman had 7 points and 7 rebounds. Troy Williams had 13 points and 7 boards, and played mostly within himself after early turnovers. Max Bielfeldt had 10 points off the bench ... the list goes on.

There are more talented teams than Indiana, but there aren't many more complete teams.

"We showed, from top to bottom, that we're maturing as a team and being very connected," Hartman said. "We showed really good connectedness tonight and pulled out the win by staying focused and not getting down when things don't go our way or shots don't fall."

The Hoosiers beat a ranked team at home? So what? 

They did it with their best player shooting 2-of-12 and their center playing only 14 minutes ... now I'm listening.

"This can just propel us to our ultimate goal, which is a Big Ten Championship," Ferrell said. "We definitely want to win it outright."


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