BLOOMINGTON, Ind. --- As Indiana has learned in the closing stretch of its Big Ten schedule, no win will come easy. In-state rival Purdue, with its physical post presence, provided yet another challenging test for the Hoosiers.
Despite a number of frontcourt players battling foul trouble and a late charge by Purdue, the No. 22 Hoosiers managed to hold on and defeat the No. 17 Boilermakers 77-73 Saturday night at Assembly Hall.
"Very proud of the way that they played," Indiana head coach Tom Crean said. "We know we beat a really, really good team that is going to play for a long, long time and has the potential to play for a long time in the tournament."
Indiana is now in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. The win marked the third time Indiana has won 12 out of its first 15 conference games in program history, a feat which it also accomplished in 2008 and 2013.
Junior forward Troy Williams led IU (22-6, 12-3 Big Ten) with with a game-high 19 points and was also the only Hoosier who managed to stay out of foul trouble.
Wanting to match the Boilermakers' (21-7, 9-6) commanding presence in the paint anchored by senior forward AJ Hammons and sophomore center Isaac Haas, Crean elected to play that matchup and start grad transfer forward Max Bielfeldt over junior forward Collin Hartman.
It turned out Indiana would have to depend on Bielfeldt more than it expected, as multiple IU forwards battled foul trouble often. Despite also battling foul trouble, Bielfeldt would make critical contributions and finish with 10 points and six rebounds.
In Indiana's last four games, he's averaged 10.3 points and 5.8 rebounds a game. But what's been most critical is his leadership, which was evident multiple times throughout the game when he and freshman center Thomas Bryant would give each other feedback when one was on the bench and the other on the court.
"It was real important," Bryant said of the feedback. "With me being out there, I needed the coaches, my teammates, even Max out there talking to me, telling me what they're about to work from the scouting reports. We just did our best out there, guarding their big men. Hammons and Haas are two big guys who are very talented in the low post. I just tried to do everything I could and so did Max."
Bielfeldt was one of three IU frontcourt players to finish with four personal fouls, while two others in that rotation - freshmen forwards OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan - finished with three each. Aside from Hammons, no Purdue forward or center had more than two personal fouls.
"I could've seen all of them fouling out, and I'm surprised they didn't," Indiana senior guard Yogi Ferrell said, referring to IU's frontcourt players. "They used up their fouls, and that's fine. We don't to let them get easy buckets, but they were fighting them down there and I was just proud of the way they fought."
Indiana led by as many as 19 in the second half before a late Purdue run cut it down to two. With the game hanging in the balance, Ferrell drove to the basket and lofted a floater from the left side of the lane. The shot initially appeared to be blocked by Hammons, but officials ruled Hammons' challenge basket interference which gave Indiana a four-point lead.
"I felt like the lane was wide open for the layup," Ferrell said, "and I ended up getting it."
Hammons caught a baseball pass downcourt on the inbounds play on the Boilermakers' final possession. As he caught it, he was stripped of the ball while backing down Bielfeldt, allowing Indiana to hold on.
While problematic for Purdue, turnovers would not be for Indiana. The Hoosiers finished with just four, matching last year's lowest single-game total, compared to 13 by the Boilermakers.
Ferrell added 18 points on 7 of 13 shooting from the field after going 10 for 42 in his previous four games and is a big reason why Indiana remains in contention for the Big Ten regular season title despite a pair of setbacks in February.
"I feel like we had a couple lulls, a couple of losses hear and there," Ferrell said. "But I felt like we bounced back from those losses really well. It's helped us win these games."