Indiana found a higher gear for its offense today in a 96-92 win at Ohio State. The victory also may give the Hoosiers some badly needed confidence heading into this coming’s week Big Ten tournament in Washington, D.C.
Junior Robert Johnson broke out of a shooting slump to lead all scorers with 26 points, just one shy of his career high set earlier this year in the triple overtime win over Penn State.
With the victory, Indiana heads into postseason play with a 17-14 overall mark and finishes with a 7-11 record in the Big Ten.
Indiana played nearly perfect offensive basketball to open the game. The Hoosiers scored the first 11 points and were up 30-12 just over seven minutes in. At that point Indiana had scored on all but one of its possessions and five of those scores were 3-point plays.
The pace had everyone on media row calculating points per possession because you just never see that stat in the 2.3 to 2.4 range that Indiana was running on for the first 7-8 minutes.
“We needed a cover over the basket,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “They opened up leading by 11. We saw that a little bit with Michigan State a month ago, but Indiana just kept going and going. At the start, we had a couple decent looks, but they were making shots at an alarming rate.”
Ohio State found it’s offensive rhythm but didn’t slow the Hoosier offense much in the remainder of the half, and were down IU at the break, 54-40.
The 54 points were the most for Indiana in the opening half in Big Ten play and matched the season high against Delaware State.
“It is very important to play that way,” Crean said.
The second half brought a different story. Ohio State opened with a 13-3 run and took a 62-61 lead on a C.J. Jackson 3-pointer with 11:37 remaining.
The teams were tied at 64 when Johnson and Juwan Morgan combined to score Indiana’s next 17 points. When the dust had settled, the Hoosiers owned a 81-69 advantage with under five minutes remaining.
"It is a great confidence builder for our guys,” Crean said about fighting off the comeback. “It was good for our guys to see that we could make the stops we needed. We were really good coming out of timeouts. They were really locked in. The first step on defense and the ball movement were great. They never brought any panic and showed tremendous confidence."
The Buckeyes were never closer than four until a Jackson 3-pointer with four seconds remaining. Blackmon Jr., however, followed with a pair of free throws to keep Indiana at safe distance.
Still to be determined is whether the Hoosiers will have to open this week’s Big Ten tournament on Wednesday or Thursday. The top 10 seeds avoid the two Wednesday games.
The Hoosiers will finish as the No. 10 seed if Michigan wins at Nebraska tomorrow or the No. 11 seed if Nebraska gets the victory.
“I have no idea about next week,” Crean said. “It’s not been on my radar. It’s been a long week, a long couple of days."
Finding something to feel good about has to be helpful for an Indiana team that had lost six of its last seven and eight of its last games coming into today’s match-up.
“The most important thing was those guys coming out of this game with some confidence,” Crean said.
It was also just the second road win of the season for the Hoosiers.
“We are getting healthier, I think there’s no question about that,” Crean said.
Morgan and Blackmon Jr. are the two Hoosiers that certainly look to be healthier based on recent results. Morgan had 11 points, two assists and two blocks and did not miss a shot in 21 minutes. Blackmon finished with 22 points and was a perfect 7-for-7 from the line.
It was another good offensive game for Josh Newkirk as the junior finished with 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting to go along with five assists.
As a team Indiana was 34-for-58 for 58.6 percent including an excellent 12-for-23 (52.2 percent) from behind the 3-point line. Johnson had five of those 3-pointers.
Hoosier native JaQuan Lyle led Ohio State with 20 points and the Buckeye offense did manage to shoot 53.2 percent from the floor.
The 12 turnovers by the Hoosiers were the lowest for Indiana since committing nine against Michigan State back in January 21.
“That’s one of the main points if we want to turn things around put together a string of wins—that we have to focus on,” Johnson said. “It’s a good thing that we made some progress on that.”
So Indiana is healthier, showed some progress with turnovers and had the best 20 minutes of offense of the season. Can the momentum from that lead to some magic next week in the nation’s capital?
“With a team like us, we can get hot fast—-this can be a start to a run if we all buy in,” Blackmon Jr. said.
Time will tell but a little confidence won’t hurt in turning that into reality.