Indiana’s four losses this season have come in a frustrating, ugly fashion for the Hoosiers. Their close losses to Eastern Washington and Georgetown were winnable games. The margins of defeat against Louisville and Michigan State were embarrassing.
But just as the Hoosiers have taken their licks, they have licked their wounds each time, learned from their mistakes and responded to adversity. Just ask Pittsburgh, then-No. 23 Butler and Nebraska, who all fell to the Hoosiers in the wake of a loss by Indiana. Saturday afternoon, No. 22 Ohio State joined that list as Indiana picked up its third win against a ranked opponent by knocking off the Buckeyes, 69-66.
After Indiana’s 20-point loss at Michigan State, Indiana coach Tom Crean said the Hoosiers didn’t compete as well enough as they need to in any game. He questioned their purpose on offense and criticized their activity on defense.
Five days after Indiana’s disastrous trip to East Lansing, Mich., lightning nearly struck twice in the opening minutes of its Big Ten home opener against Ohio State.
Junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea picked up two fouls in the first 84 seconds against the Spartans; against the Buckeyes, he picked up two fouls in the opening 86 seconds and subsequently earned an extended trip to the bench.
Through the first media timeout, Indiana had five turnovers and the Hoosiers were 1-of-4 from the field, allowing Ohio State to jump out to a 9-2 lead.
Crean often talks about snatching momentum when it’s up for grabs. Indiana did just that and responded with a 24-6 run that was fueled off of hustle plays, offensive rebounds, defensive tenacity and a trio 0f 3-pointers.
Sophomore forward Troy Williams, who had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, said Indiana’s defense changed the game.
“Our defense led to our offense,” he said. “We started getting into our flow, we started getting scoring runs and more and more rebounds and then pushing and starting the break, so defense is definitely what helped us.”
Crean credited Williams’ multiple highlight reel dunks for bringing energy to Assembly Hall and the Hoosiers.
“We were losing our energy a little bit and that Troy dunk just brought everybody — it certainly brought our team up,” he said. “You need those doses of energy to create more momentum.”
With Mosquera-Perea on the bench and a quiet half from freshman guard James Blackmon Jr. (1-of-5 from the field, 2 points), Williams, along with Nick Zeisloft and Collin Hartman off the bench, stepped up for the Hoosiers.
Zeisloft scored all eight of his points in the first half and chipped in four rebounds, the biggest of which came after he dove on the ground to beat two Buckeye players to a loose ball and he tapped it to Yogi Ferrell. It was the first of three offensive rebounds for Indiana on that trip down the floor and the possession ended with a 3-pointer from Ferrell that gave the Hoosiers a 17-15 lead.
Indiana never trailed again.
While Indiana had pedestrian shooting numbers in the first half, the Hoosiers dominated the boards and ate up the Buckeyes’ matchup zone on the offensive glass. Indiana doubled up Ohio State in the first half rebounding battle, 30-15, and grabbed more than half of its missed shots.
The Buckeyes managed to claw back before halftime as Indiana made only four free throws and no field goals in the final 4:49 of the half.
Even as Indiana distanced itself from Ohio State in the second half as its lead grew to 10, the Buckeyes kept the game close. Mosquera-Perea and Ziesloft fouled out late in the second half, and despite three blocks from Collin Hartman in the final four minutes, Ohio State ended up scoring after each one.
Ohio State’s full-court pressure slowed down the Hoosiers’ fast-paced offense and the Buckeyes climbed within one point of Indiana in the waning seconds, but Indiana made its free throws down the stretch to improve to 2-1 in conference play.
Indiana has shown that it can take a punch and respond with one of its own, but the Hoosiers need to find consistency in their play. That takes time, Crean said.
“We have been getting mentally tougher all year long, right, but it doesn’t mean it’s consistent,” he said. “You know, when it’s really there is when it becomes part of who you are. And we’re growing in that, we are definitely growing in that.”