For once Indiana fans got to leave a game with a smile after a close game. It’s not happened often this year in a forgettable season that had Indiana coming into this game in 13th place in the Big Ten standings.
No, it wasn’t just because of the successful Senior Night wedding proposal made by injured senior Collin Hartman to his girlfriend. That was a first for that time honored tradition after the final regular season home game.
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The real reason for some happy faces was probably because Indiana made the plays down the stretch in come-for-behind 63-62 win over Northwestern. This was the first time since the season opener that Indiana has beaten a team not named Penn State in a game decided by six points or less.
The win ended a five-game losing streak, bringing Indiana’s season record to 16-13 and 6-10 in the Big Ten.
“I'm not sure I could get it across to you, if most people would have any idea how hard it is to keep coming back day after day when you're working so hard and you're right there, and then it doesn't go the right way,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said after the win.
It was one of the best late comebacks ever at Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers essentially came back from the dead, scoring the final eight points, erasing a seven point deficit in the final 1:20.
There were no miracle shots, no giveaways by Northwestern. Indiana earned it by getting those eight points in its final three possessions and playing solid defense at the other end.
Robert Johnson started it with a layup with 1:17 remaining. Gavin Skelly then missed an open 3-pointer, Johnson got the board and seven seconds later with a defender on him, James Blackmon Jr. drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing to make a two point game with 38 seconds remaining.
That afforded Indiana the luxury of not having to foul and Indiana’s help defense forced a difficult inside shot from Bryant McIntosh that was missed and rebounded by Blackmon. The Hoosier junior then raced up the court and found Thomas Bryant inside with a nice wrap-around pass that Bryant converted for a dunk and Scottie Lindsey picked up the foul on the play with 2.9 seconds left.
“(It) was in my mind to just be aggressive and make a good play,” Blackmon said. “I heard the bench call a timeout but I was already in my move and went with it.
“I saw two or three guys come at me so I knew that TB was going to be in the right spot….he wedged and it was a perfect play.”
Maybe it was just time for Indiana as Bryant’s free throw bounded up off the back rim several feet high only to fall back down through the net.
After a timeout McIntosh lined up a half court shot that caught a lot of the rim before bouncing out.
“It went out of my hand and I actually said I thought I hit it—it felt great coming out of my hand,” McIntosh said. “We have to make plays so it doesn’t come down to that. They made the plays and we didn’t."
This game had huge swings with Indiana overcoming a late 12 point first half deficit by scoring 22 straight to end the half capped by a buzzer beating shot from near 3/4 court delivered by freshman Devonte Green.
“I thought (Juwan) Morgan gave them really good minutes during that stretch,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “He had a couple of buckets, and thought that his energy kind of got them back in the game. They had six threes, we lost them at the three point line. It was kind of a combination of everything. When you don't score for six minutes or seven minutes, it's going to be tough.“
Morgan finished with nine points and six boards. Blackmon led the Hoosiers with 13 and Bryant added 11.
Despite that surge of offense Indiana only scored six points in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, losing a lead and watching Northwestern increase the margin to as many as eight points.
“The players felt good about that (run) but we didn't come out and have the same response at the start of the second half that we needed to,” Crean said.
As a team Indiana shot 40.0 percent. The Hoosiers had to overcome a 16-3 deficit in points off turnovers. Helping do that was a defense that held the Wildcats to 4-for-18 shooting on 3-pointers and 39.0 percent overall.
McIntosh led Northwestern with 22 points as the Wildcats missed a golden opportunity to potentially lock down an NCAA bid, falling to 20-9 and 9-7 in the Big Ten.
“It’s a tough one to swallow, especially when you have a five point lead with a minute to go,” McIntosh said.
Indiana will see if they can continue to finish games well with a pair of road games this week to finish the regular season. The first will be a 7:00 p.m. ESPN2 battle on Tuesday at Purdue.
“Who is at the top of the league right now, Wisconsin, Maryland Purdue?” Crean said. “All three of those games came down to either the buzzer, the last possession or the last two possessions. And so what these guys have got to understand we didn't get those wins, but at the end of the day we just gotta figure out how to get over those humps. Will it be easy in there? Absolutely not.”