Despite leading for the vast majority of the game against the Illini, the Indiana Hoosiers never really seemed to be in control on Sunday. IU managed to pull out the 56-46 win and get a much needed victory in what is becoming a very disappointing season.
It was a defensive struggle from the opening tip. Illinois and Indiana are both offensively challenged and much more talented on the other end of the court. It wasn’t surprising that both teams shot so poorly (IU 41.8-percent and Illinois 33-percent) but it made for a frustrating game.
While IU led the entire second half, they didn’t seem interested in taking control of the game. They had an 11-point lead at one point, but then the Illini went on a 10-2 run. Illinois couldn’t get over the hump and the Hoosiers couldn’t hold onto a big lead until they were shooting free throws at the end of the game.
Had IU shot better than 68-percent from the free throw line, this game would have been over much sooner. While the offense is still very much a work in progress, the defense has really shined in Big Ten play. Only the first meeting against Illinois, which went into overtime, saw the Hoosiers give up more than 80 points. In fact, Pomeroy rates the Hoosiers with the 23rd most efficient defense in the country.
After reading the opening, you might be thinking this was a horrible game and the Hoosiers aren’t going to win another one all season. There were a lot of positives to take away from Sunday.
Yogi Ferrell really showed up in the second half. 15 of his 17 points came in the second and he hit six straight free throws down the stretch to ice the game. Ferrell did have three turnover, but offset that with five assists.
Stanford Robinson is developing into a very solid player. His 5-of-12 shooting produced 10 points and he snagged five rebounds. He is a good defender who has made a big jump in the past month. In the last game against Illinois he came off the bench, scored one point, and committed four fouls.
Will Sheehey isn’t 100-percent right now, but he was able to start and contribute all over the court for the Hoosiers. He had a block and a steal on defense to go along with nine rebounds. He was just 2-of-6 from the field, but dished out three assists. You would like to see Sheehey be more efficient scoring the ball, and give the team closer to 15 a night, but when he’s giving the team something in every stat with a bum ankle, its hard to mad.
The Hoosiers have a tough road ahead. The next three games are going to be very tough for this young team. First up is a trip to Nebraska who have been tough to beat at home. The Cornhuskers are good on both sides of the ball, and despite a 2-5 conference record, are not an easy team to beat.
That will be followed up by a visit from No. 21 Michigan this weekend. The Wolverines are 7-0 in the conference and just recently upset No. 3 Michigan State at home. They will likely jump up in the AP Top 25 when they’re released this week.
The tough stretch is topped off with a visit to Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are very tough, even with an up and down Big Ten season. They are extremely talented on offense (14th in efficiency) and above average on defense. They are just on the outside of the Top 25 as well.
If IU still has aspirations of an NCAA Tournament bid, they need to go 2-1 in the next stretch. Beating Michigan would be a huge coup, but its the least likely win of the three.
There is a lot to like about the Hoosiers this year, but the future of the program seems to be directly tied to Noah Vonleh‘s future. If he decides to go pro after his freshman year, and he’s projected as a top 15 pick in the NBA Draft, then IU will have a difficult couple of years to come.
For now, fans can revel in the win and take away the positives. Hope Vonleh comes back, and keep rooting for more upsets.