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Indiana returns to site of its midseason turnaround

Back in December, Indiana rallied to defeat Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The Hoosiers return to the site of their midseason turnaround seeking the same success in the Big Ten Tournament.

Nearly three months ago, Indiana appeared to be reeling. 

Trailing throughout most of its Crossroads Classic Matchup with Notre Dame on Dec. 19, the Hoosiers would be down 10 at halftime as they heard boos heading toward the locker room. 

Yet halftime - and the game itself, which featured Indiana rallying from its largest second-half deficit in the Tom Crean era - proved to be the turning point in the middle of the season. On Friday, the Hoosiers return to the site of that turnaround with a noon matchup as the No. 1 seed against No. 8 seed Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis. 

"Halftime was the turning point," Crean said. "We didn't play like that at the beginning of the second half, obviously, because we got down 16 (before the first media timeout). But even when we got down 16, there was no anger or panic. There was urgency, but there was no anger or panic."

Indiana's (25-6) relatively calm demeanor, save for the urgency, provided the necessary confidence the rest of the season. The Hoosiers enter Friday's game vs. Michigan having gone 16-3 since the win over Notre Dame and winners of their last five straight games, winning the Big Ten regular season title outright. 

The Wolverines (21-11)  have somewhat stumbled through this season without senior guards Spike Albrecht or Caris LeVert. Albrecht played nine games before deciding to end his college basketball career on Dec. 11 due to struggles with surgically repaired hips. Less than three weeks later, LeVert sustained a lower left leg injury against Illinois. LeVert would return briefly against Purdue on Feb. 13 before permanently shutting his senior season down on March 1. 

Since Dec. 30, Michigan has gone 11-8. It survived Thursday with an overtime win over Northwestern - a narrow one, at that, as junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. stepped out of bounds on the baseline to give the ball back to Northwestern with 0.6 seconds left, but the Wildcats couldn't convert in the remaining time. 

A win would carry significant weight for both teams' NCAA Tournament resumes. The Hoosiers project as a No. 3 seed by bracketologists but could improve that seeding with a strong showing in the conference tournament. Michigan remains firmly on the bubble, and another win in the Big Ten Tournament would help its cause as well, especially over a team like Indiana which entered the top 10 in both the AP and coaches' polls this week. 

NCAA Tournament Talk seemed far-fetched just three months ago, when Indiana trailed Notre Dame by 16. But the Hoosiers climbed their way back into the game and took a one-point lead with one minute remaining. In the end, they won by seven after scoring the final nine points of the game. 

“That right there proved that, as long as we stick with it, we can still find a way to win,” Indiana junior forward Troy Williams said. “We’ve had those moments in games since.”

A critical leader in those moments has been senior guard Yogi Ferrell, who overcame his own early struggles in that game to will Indiana to the win and and brief shooting struggles in the middle of Big Ten play to lead IU to the title. 

"At halftime of (the Notre Dame) game, Coach Crean came up to me and just said, 'go out there and just let it come to you. Play free, not reckless. He said, 'At the end of the day, I"m still going to go with you as my point guard.' And I felt like I really took that to heart." 

The vote of confidence from Crean energized Ferrell, who has averaged 17.7 points per game since the Notre Dame game and led the team in scoring. It also powered IU to a 12-game winning streak.

The Hoosiers will aim for similar success and confidence on Friday. 


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