Cody Zeller said good morning, Victor Oladipo said good afternoon, and the deafening crowd inside Assembly Hall said goodnight. The Indiana Hoosiers re-routed the Minnesota Golden Gophers right back home with an 88-81 victory Saturday at Assembly Hall.
The No. 5 Hoosiers were firing on all cylinders in the first half, as if Tom Crean, their commander-in-chief, declared it DEFCON 1 when the No. 8 Golden Gophers arrived in Bloomington.
“The one thing that we are doing is that we are playing extremely hard and competitive,” Tom crean said. “It was a very good victory. One that we appreciate and earned.”
Cody Zeller gave the slow-arriving crowd at Assembly Hall the early morning jolt they needed, firing home a two-handed dunk that began a stretch of blistering, unwavering play from the Hoosiers which left the Gophers writhing back to the locker room at halftime.
Once the Hoosiers got going, the only thing more suffocating than the crowd was their voracious defense, which besieged the Gophers from the opening tip.
Of course this eviscerating, relentless attack was led by none other than Victor Oladipo, who has officially put himself on Naismith watch after his most brilliant performance to date. Every key first half play to IU’s six minute, 21-4 run was fueled by defense.
“This Indiana defense is like a turtleneck in the summer,” commentator Gus Johnson said on the Big Ten Network’s broadcast.
Oladipo finished an array of aggressive, acrobatic and contested shots at the rim. And when they started cutting off his lanes, he calmly stroked a three-pointer from the top of the arc. Oladipo finished the day with 20 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists.
“Our defense is really what got us going,” Jordan Hulls said. “Victor did a great job on the ball, getting steals, getting fast breaks. Just doing different things on the defensive end that led to our offense and that’s what we want to come in and do and that’s what we have to do if we want to keep on winning.”
It’s easy to see how Oladipo’s play fuels this team. As the Hoosiers forced 12 first half turnovers – converting them into 19 points off – the sellout crowd at Assembly Hall screaming from high up into the rafters came pouring down on the Gophers. If they had not been eagerly awaiting it, the Gophers may not have even heard the first half buzzer – their saving grace.
Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell — 13 points, eight assists — had much to do with that. He terrorized the Gophers on both ends of the court, often sending the crowd into a frenzy. Whether he was weaving in and out of defenders at full speed or wreaking havoc on the defensive end, he had as much to do with this Hoosier victory as any.
“We knew he was extremely well-coached,” Crean said. “There was obviously no doubt about that. Just a huge winner.
“I think the biggest thing is his defense. His on ball defense, his ability to attack those things have really transferred to the collegiate level.”
Will Sheehey had zero points today, but nothing about his game was disappointing. He provided a seamless transition off the bench, as he usually does when Oladipo takes his first half breather.
Sheehey is not too different from Oladipo, his counterpart on many different levels. He plays with that same intensity that few can match, and is versatile in his offensive game and his defensive capabilities.
Immediately upon entering the game, Sheehey picked up Minnesota guard Austin Hollins who caught the ball near his basket on the baseline. Sheehey, relentless in his pursuit, funneled Hollins up the court just inches from the half court line, right into Cody Zeller who was there to force a turnover.
On the Gophers next possession the ball was knocked lose from Hollins in transition, and there was Sheehey, diving onto the ground and sliding 10 feet past Hollins to corral the ball and start another fast break for the Hoosiers. That was one of two times Sheehey performed such an act against the Gophers.
As expected, Minnesota made its run to start and end the second half. They cut a 23 point IU lead down to as little as three with 20 seconds to play. While the Gophers kept the game interesting – ok, things got a little stressful — there was never any doubt that the Hoosiers would prevail.
“We didn’t attack it correctly,” Crean said. “We got caught up a little bit in getting it down the court rather than how we were going to get it down the court. They were aggressive. We knew that. We practiced for that.”
With the Hoosiers up nine and in need of a basket to remain in control, there again was Oladipo, flying to the basket to secure a weak-side rebound after a Jordan Hulls miss and lay it in the hoop.
A barrage of IU turnovers, missed free-throws and Minnesota three-pointers would cause the Hoosiers to sweat down the stretch. After the Gophers improbably cut the Hoosiers lead to three with 20 seconds to play, Jordan Hulls inexplicably missed two free throws at the line. But just as Oladipo was there before, Zeller was there again to finagle a rebound and send Hulls back to the free-throw line to put the game away. This time for good.
“I want them to enjoy it, but we have different expectation levels now,” Crean said. “It’s not the outside expectations. It’s the expectation level inside of where we need to be.
“I think we have a lot of room for improvement.”
While there will be a lot of commotion made about a second half collapse in Bloomington this week, the Hoosiers were still able to walk away with a big time conference win, and a few important areas of concern to work on. Namely breaking a full-court press.
We’ve seen several times this season what these Hoosiers are capable of, just how high their ceiling really is. But it’s nice to have a reminder every so often of just how far they have to come before they can stay there.
Because as we learned today, in the Big Ten, they’re going to need to reach it more often than not.
The Good: Starting Strong
Oladipo finished with 20 points, Hulls with 19, Zeller with 18, Watford with 15 and Ferrell with 13. The Hoosiers also won the rebounding battle 36-34 against a very physical Minnesota team.
The Bad: Sloppy Second Half
IU finished 6-for 21 from the field in the second half. Minnesota was 17-for-40.
The Hoosiers totaled just one assist and 11 turnovers in the second half.
The Ugly: Breaking The Press
No stat can explain how inexplicably bad IU was at breaking Minnesota’s full court press.