It was Indiana's first trip to Hartford, Conn., but the Hoosiers must have had the feeling they'd been here before.
For the fourth time this season, Indiana went down to the wire against an elite basketball program on the road. But unlike previous trips to Duke, Kentucky and Ohio State, the outcome was different Saturday against Connecticut. Indiana built a 14-point first half lead, quickly squandered it, but eventually managed to scratch and claw and come up with just enough plays down to stretch to pull out a 77-73 win over Connecticut.
The win was Indiana's fifth straight, lifting Coach Kelvin Sampson's team to 14-4. Connecticut lost for the fifth time in its last seven games and slipped to 13-5.
Rod Wilmont scored 23 points – including the go-ahead bucket on a 12-foot leaner in the lane with 1:06 remaining – to lead the Hoosiers. Armon Bassett and Earl Calloway, meanwhile, combined to go 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in the final 35 seconds to hold off the Huskies.
The win left Sampson raving about the way his team was able to come up with the sort of critical plays in the closing minutes that it didn't produce in its earlier road setbacks.
"The story is our kids' hearts, and how tough our kids played down the stretch," Sampson said. "To win the game, you have to know how to win the game."
Indiana has apparently learned those lessons courtesy its heart-breaking setbacks earlier this season. This time around, the Hoosiers committed only four second half turnovers against a very long, athletic, and aggressive Huskies lineup and they had just enough in the tank to get their second road win of the season.
There were plenty of heroes for the Hoosiers. Wilmont finished 8-of-11 from the floor, was 5-of-8 from 3-point range, and added five rebounds and three steals. D.J. White, meanwhile, scored 17 of his 21 points in the first half and had three blocks in 38 minutes. Bassett had 13 points, including three 3-pointers in the first three minutes of the contest to give IU a quick lead, and then wrapped things up by going 4-of-4 from the free-throw line in the final 30 seconds to preserve the win. And surprise starter Mike White chipped in eight points and four rebounds in 32 minutes of action.
"This was a great road win for our kids," Sampson said. "When we got on the plane from Bloomington, we came up here to win a game – that was our attitude."
The win came against a young and talented UConn squad that out-rebounded the Hoosiers 38-22 – including a 19-6 edge on the offensive glass – that produced a staggering 20-0 edge for UConn in second-chance points. Stanley Robinson led the Huskies with 21 points, while Jeff Adrien added 15 points and 12 rebounds, including nine off the offensive glass.
The rebounding total wasn't a huge surprise to Sampson, who said his team's gameplan was to try to get back on defense in an effort to keep the Huskies from pushing the tempo.
"The one thing we sacrificed today was offensive rebounding," Sampson said. "Usually we attack the glass, but we said we weren't going to do it. We sent people back. For us, the way they play, we needed to keep the game in halfcourt sets."
Early on, it appeared the Hoosiers wouldn't need to worry about much of anything at the Hartford Civic Center. Bassett connected on three 3-pointers in the game's first three minutes to help IU up an 11-2 lead. D.J. White then came to life, scoring nine of IU's next 15 to push the lead to 14, 26-12.
But Connecticut fought back. Thanks to some dominant play on the glass and in the paint, the Huskies put together a 24-5 run to wipe away the Hoosiers' lead and take a five-point lead of their own, 36-31, with 1:49 left. Indiana responded with an 8-0 spurt to take a three-point lead right before the half, but Connecticut's Doug Wiggins hit a 3-pointer as the first half buzzer sounded, sending the teams into the intermission tied 39-39.
The second half was a back-and-forth affair, with Indiana eventually coming up with just enough plays to wrap up a win that could very well land the Hoosiers in the top-25 this week.
"We kept bending, but we didn't break," Sampson said. "That's where our identity comes in. To win in tough venues, you have to have something to fall back on."
M. White 3-5 2-2 8, D. White 8-16 5-5 21, Bassett 3-9 4-4 13, Wilmont 8-11 2-2 23, Calloway 1-3 2-2 5, Suhr 0-0 0-0 0, Stemler 0-2 0-0 0, Allen 0-0 0-0 0, Shaw 1-3 4-4 6, Keeling 0-0 0-0 0, Ratliff 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 24-50 20-21 77.
Robinson 7-11 6-6 21, Adrien 4-13 7-10 15, Thabeet 2-2 2-6 6, Dyson 4-8 0-1 8, Wiggins 3-10 1-2 8, Johnson 4-6 0-1 8, Kelly 2-2 0-0 4, Madeldove 0-0 0-0 0, Price 1-4 1-2 3. Totals 27-56 17-28 73.
3-Pointers: Indiana 9-18 (Wilmont 5-8, Bassett 3-5, Calloway 1-2, Stemler 0-2, Shaw 0-1), Connecticut 2-5 (Robinson 1-1, Wiggins 1-1, Price 0-2, Dyson 0-1). Rebounds: Indiana 22 (Wilmont 5), Connecticut 38 (Adrien 12). Assists: Indiana 18 (Calloway 8), Connecticut 9 (Wiggins 5). Turnovers: Indiana 11 (Shaw 2, Calloway 2, Wilmont 2), Connecticut 13 (Robinson 4, Adrien 4). Blocks: Indiana 6 (D. White 3), Connecticut 5 (Robinson 2). Steals: Indiana 8 (Wilmont 3), Connecticut 6 (Dyson 2).
Hoosiers Get Big Road Win
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