There were no near misses this time around.
After back-to-back one possession defeats against Illinois and Purdue, Indiana eliminated any degree of drama on Sunday by falling behind big early at Northwestern and eventually losing big, 78-61, at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston.
The victory was Northwestern's third straight over Indiana, marking the Wildcat program's first three-game win streak against IU since they won five straight from 1930-33.
But Northwestern's motivation was hardly about stringing together a trio of victories against IU. Coach Bill Carmody's team was in desperate need of a win to enhance its NCAA tourney hopes, and the Wildcats (16-7/5-6) managed to do that by dominating from the opening tip. Northwestern scored the game's first six points and soon extended the margin to 18-4 seven minutes in after back-to-back 3-pointers from John Shurna.
Northwestern went on to shoot 59.1 percent in the opening half – including 6-of-9 from behind the 3-point arc – while going up by as many as 15.
"We did not have the fight in us at the beginning that you need to have to get started," IU Coach Tom Crean said. "Then you're playing in an uphill battle the entire game, and that's exactly what happened."
Verdell Jones scored 14 of his career-high 28 points in the opening half to keep Indiana (9-13/3-7) within shouting distance, and Indiana eventually closed the margin to nine, 38-29, with 28 seconds remaining in the opening half on a fastbreak layup by Jeremiah Rivers. But Indiana's momentum was short-lived, as Mike Capocci drove baseline for a dunk to give Northwestern an 11-point halftime lead.
Jones scored on the opening possession of the second half to get the lead back to nine, but Northwestern countered with an 8-0 run that pushed the lead back to 17 and Indiana never again seriously threatened.
The disappointing result put a damper on a very big day for Jones, who made 7-of-14 shots from the floor and 12-of-13 from the free-throw line while also handing out a team-high six assists. It was Jones' seventh 20-point outing of the season.
"He's continuing to get better, and we have to continue to find ways to get him the ball," Crean said. "Verdell is getting a lot of things done. He's getting to the foul line, he's playing through the bumps and cruises and the contact."
But Jones' play was not nearly enough to overcome a Northwestern team that had all five of its starters score in double figures, led by 16 from Shurna. Jeremy Nash chipped in with 13 points and a game-high 10 rebounds while Michael Thompson added 12 points and six assists.
That trio also made nine 3-pointers, led by Shurna with five. Northwestern finished 10-of-25 from 3-point range, markedly better than the 2-of-17 effort from Indiana. Jones made 2-of-4 from deep, but the rest of his IU teammates were a combined 0-for-13.
"The bottom line was that we had to defend the 3-point line," Crean said. "We had to pressure up. They've shot more than 100 more 3-pointers than us. There's a reason for that. The bottom line is you have to get your hands extended."
After playing inspired against both Illinois and Purdue, the Hoosiers were clearly lethargic against Northwestern, particularly early on. While Jones finished with 28 and Christian Watford chipped in with 16, no one else on the team scored more than five.
"We didn't come out with a street fight mentality at the start of the game at all," Crean said.
Watford 5-11 6-8 16, Pritchard 1-3 2-2 4, Elston 0-2 0-0 0, Rivers 2-4 1-2 5, Jones 7-14 12-13 28, Capobianco 0-3 0-0 0, Dumes 0-7 0-0 0, Hulls 1-4 2-2 4, Moore 2-3 0-0 4, Barnett 0-0 0-0 0, Finkelmeier 0-0 0-0 0, Muniru 0-0 0-0 0, Gambles 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-51 23-27 61.
Crawford 4-10 2-3 10, Mirkovic 4-6 6-9 14, Thompson 4-7 2-2 12, Nash 4-9 3-3 13, Shurna 5-9 1-3 16, Rowley 0-0 2-4 2, Marctullio 1-4 0-0 3, Capocci 2-2 2-2 6, Nichols 0-0 0-0 0, Hearn 0-0 0-0 0, Fruendt 0-0 0-0 0, Peljusic 1-1 0-0 2, Curletti 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-48 18-26 78.
3-Pointers: Indiana 2-17 (Jones 2-4, Dumes 0-5, Huls 0-3, Watford 0-2, Elston 0-1, Rivers 0-1, Moore 0-1), Northwestern 10-25 (Shurna 5-8, Thompson 2-4, Nash 2-5, Marcotullio 1-4, Crawford 0-4). Rebounds: Indiana 32 (Rivers 6), Northwestern 33 (Nash 10). Assists: Indiana 10 (Jones 6), Northwestern 21 (Thompson 6, Shurna 6). Turnovers: Indiana 8, Northwestern 10. Blocks: Indiana2 (Jones, Pritchard), Northwestern 9 (Shurna 3, Nash 2, Crawford, Mirkovic, Thompson, Rowley). Steals: Indiana 7, Northwestern 4.
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