Upon Further Review: Pitt

The Hoosiers caught a lot of people by surprise with their convincing 74-64 win over Jamie Dixon's Pitt Panthers in the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday night. Hoosier Nation looks back at the double-digit win and talks about what we found to be most impressive, surprising and concerning about the contest. We also name our game MVP…

Game MVP - Verdell Jones. IU Coach Tom Crean wanted to see his guards forgo the 3-point shot and instead look to drive and either finish or get to the free-throw line, and no one did that any better than IU's sophomore guard. Jones – who had been hobbled in the days leading up to the Pitt contest - finished with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting and did all of his work from 15-feet and in. He also earned eight of IU's 34 trips to the free-throw line, making six. Defensively, Jones did his part as well, contributing three of Indiana's season-high 10 blocked shots. Besides having a big statistical night, Jones also did most of his damage at critical times. He scored IU's final five points of the first half to turn a 29-28 deficit into a 33-29 lead. He then had six points and an assist during a 15-5 second half run that gave IU its first double-digit lead. Finally, after a trio of Pitt 3-pointers had cut IU's lead to eight with 1:39 left, it was Jones that drove and hit a nice 12-footer in the lead to halt the rally. His play was reminiscent of how he finished the season a year ago when he had clearly established himself as Indiana's go-to player.

Biggest Surprise… The win itself. In the first 48 games of Crean's tenure, Indiana's list of ‘victims' is hardly impressive – USC-Upstate, Howard, Iowa, TCU, Cornell, Chaminade, IUPUI and Northwestern State (twice). But on Tuesday, Indiana posted a double-digit victory over a program that is eight months removed from being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Admittedly, Jamie Dixon's team lost a great deal of talent from that squad (four of five starters, with the fifth just now returning from a foot injury), but it's still a victory to "hang your hat on", as Crean said afterwards. The program has been looking for a win to provide on-lookers with some evidence that things are turning around, plus one that can serve as a reward to a group of players that haven't had a chance to savor too many victories. They got that win Tuesday, and it should serve as a huge confidence boost as the Hoosiers ready themselves for No. 4 Kentucky on Saturday and the Big Ten schedule in three weeks.

What I Found Most Impressive… Indiana "out-toughed" one of the toughest teams in college basketball. No matter who Pitt puts on the floor, Jamie Dixon gets them to play with a tenacity that is on par with just about any other program in college basketball. The Hoosiers met that challenge on Tuesday, and probably out-performed their Big East foe in the category. Indiana's guards attacked the heart of the defense and created contact and got the free-throw line. Christian Watford was out-wrestling players for rebounds on one end of the floor and attacking the basket and drawing fouls on the other end. Even Tijan Jobe was getting into the fray, cracking his head on the floor as he battled for one second-half rebound. There's little doubt that Tom Crean delivered the message that IU would have to stand its ground against the Panthers if it hoped to compete, but saying it and doing it are two different things. Indiana did it for the full 40 minutes last night.

What I Found Most Concerning… Pitt's late-game charge that turned a comfortable 18-point lead with 2:58 left into a two-possession game two minutes later. Pitt did its part thanks to a pair of 3-pointers by Ashton Gibbs and another by Dwight Miller in a 10-second stretch, but the Hoosiers contributed to the rally as well with a pair of backcourt turnovers that led to the final two 3-point shots that cut the lead to 68-60 with 1:39 remaining. The Hoosiers eventually settled down and preserved the win, but they needed most of those 18 points to hold off the Panthers. Afterwards, Crean said there are some "teachable moments" from the final couple of minutes, and admittedly Indiana hasn't found itself in that type of situation too often in the last 1 ½ years. But Indiana will have show that it's capable of taking care of the ball and making free throws late in games as it moves forward.

Turning Point: Indiana's 13-3 run early in the second half that turned a 35-34 lead into a 50-39 cushion with 9:55 remaining. Indiana would maintain that double-digit lead until the barrage of late Pitt 3-pointers cut the margin to eight and eventually six. Verdell Jones got things started with a fastbreak layup following his own steal, and Maurice Creek then blocked a Gary McGhee dunk on the other end. Derek Elston then was awarded two points following a McGhee goaltend, and IU's run was in motion. Jones scored six of his 20 points during the flurry and had an assist, while Devan Dumes' deep 3-pointer (IU's only 3-pointer of the game) capped the run that gave IU a 48-37 lead.

Quotable: "It feels great. Our hard work is starting to pay off. For our team to get a win against an elite team like this will motivate us to keep working and getting better." – Verdell Jones

"It is one of the things we preach, putting Indiana back on the map and just bring that great tradition of Indiana." – Christian Watford

"From the nine minute mark on, our guys never wavered in how they were talking to each other, in terms of finishing the game. It was all about defense. I could have not talked offense those last nine minutes and I think we would have still won the game because we were so locked in to defending. We made some mistakes like going to fast when we were trying to put the game away but that is all part of the learning process. There are still so many learning situations that we have to go through. Thankfully all of these are teachable moments from a win." – Tom Crean

"Two guys that really stand out to me… because of the injuries that they had over the weekend are Verdell Jones and Jeremiah Rivers. For those two to play the way that they did, with Verdell's ankle and Jeremiah's back, for those guys to just absolutely play on pure guts, I thought that was great. I think that's something that's going to really serve them as well." – Tom Crean

"They were so focused on defense. We didn't always do the right things, but it's going to be a lot more fun to have teachable moments after a win. So I'm really proud of the way that they played. They needed to see why they practiced twice on Thanksgiving, why they do individual instructions, why the demands are the way that they are. And I think they'll be able to build off this and this will help springboard us to other things. I thought we got a lot of excellent basketball from a lot of different people."." – Crean

"We got really what we deserve, we didn't play well and Indiana did. I was happy we outrebounded them but at the same time we didn't do too many other things as well as we had hoped going in.." – Pitt Coach Jamie Dixon

"I think they did a good job of taking us off the dribble. They got some scores inside from the big guys. They got to the free-throw line. They get to the free-throw line a lot but they also foul a lot and put guys on the free-throw line. Our goal was to get to the free-throw line. They outscored us by 13 from the free-throw line and they outscored us by 10. When you look at the stats of their opponents, their opponents are outshooting them at the free-throw line and we didn't do that tonight. The zone and how they defended early put us in that situation." - Dixon


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