The Indiana Hoosiers' fanbase resumed a perch on the ledge following a disheartening last-second loss to Illinois on Thursday. The team, however, traveled to Columbus and did some work, defeating the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Several concerns were raised during the Illinois game, but winning cures most ills. Here are some observations from IU's first impressive road win of the season.
There aren't a lot of teams in America with a more talented trio than IU's triumvirate of Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford. It's been rare, though, that all three have been in the same game this season.
Against Ohio State, the three combined for 70 of Indiana's 81 points, shooting 22-of-32 from the floor and tearing 22 rebounds.
One game after Zeller was part of the furniture—he took only six shots against Illinois—the Big Handsome got 11 attempts from both the floor and the line. The Indiana offense frequently looked to establish him against OSU's overmatched post trio.
Oladipo was his usual self, frequently spectacular and always in the thick of the action. His 26 points and eight rebounds both tied for game-high honors.
Watford, for his part, was a frequent antagonist for OSU star Deshaun Thomas, making him work hard for many of his 26 points. Watford contributed 20 points and six boards, draining four of IU's seven three-point shots.
Yogi Ferrell wasn't happy about this particular whistle because it went against him. For most of the day, though, Indiana followed the advice I had outlined in a previous post.
IU occasionally got hung up on the three-pointer (more on that later), but for the most part, the Buckeyes found their rim under attack.
Ohio State was whistled for a whopping 27 personal fouls, with both center Evan Ravenel and point guard Aaron Craft fouling out. That latter development caused a tiny bit of surprise around the Twitterverse, especially among Indiana-centric writers:
That said, Craft will need to knife someone to get his 4th anytime soon.— Andy Bottoms (@AndyBottoms) February 10, 2013
Nothing so drastic was needed to put the Hoosiers on the line 28 times against 49 field-goal attempts, a .571 free-throw rate that looks impressive, but is only the Hoosiers' fifth-best FTR in conference play this season.
After allowing Illinois to stage a frantic rally for the win on Thursday, much was made of Indiana's awareness of the clock during late-game situations.
Late in the Ohio State game, the Hoosiers were much more comfortable slowing the game down and working the clock late, but at times, they were too comfortable.
IU committed three shot-clock violations, a couple coming in the second half and undoubtedly making fans nervous about OSU staging a repeat of the Illini rally.
Ball security has always been an issue for this Indiana team, especially since the start of Big Ten play. Illinois exploited 14 turnovers for 28 points—a highly effective conversion rate.
IU still turned the ball over 10 times against Ohio State, but only allowed 11 points in return. The Hoosiers were able to retreat and regroup after a mistake, a skill that will become that much more important in the high-pressure games coming next month.
Christian Watford had it going on from long range, making 4-of-5.
The rest of the team? 3-of-13.
Remy Abell's missed three at the 9:46 mark of the first half was taken to the other end for a three-point play that gave OSU a 16-14 lead, with Abell compounding bad shot selection with a heedless foul.
At that point, IU was 2-of-10 from long range. The Hoosiers took only one more long jumper the rest of the half, and perhaps, it's not coincidental that they reversed that two-point deficit into an eight-point lead at the break.
Indiana is blessed with multiple players (Watford, Victor Oladipo, Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey) who can light up the scoreboard from beyond the arc. The three-point shot can be a fickle ally, though.
The Hoosiers benefited from greater awareness of when the interior game is working, and the long jumpers are not.
The Hoosiers came into today's game ranking second in the Big Ten in possessions per game. For a team known for tempo, IU has struggled recently in generating transition points.
Indiana averaged 6.6 fast-break points per game over its past seven outings coming into this game, and it barely made that average with eight against Ohio State.
IU's half-court execution has been occasionally questioned, but against one of Ken Pomeroy's top 12 defensive teams in America, the Hoosiers performed very admirably. The ball moved well from side to side, extra passes were made inside, and there was little of the one-man freelancing that hurt IU late against Illinois.
If that half-court performance continues to improve, opposing coaches will have even more concerns about how to stop IU's offense.
For his first time out against the fierce defense of Aaron Craft, especially on the road, Yogi Ferrell put up a solid effort.
Ferrell scored only one point, but in what may be the more important stat column, he committed only one turnover.
Over the first 38 minutes of the game, Craft was only able to score one basket in the paint. The Hoosiers frequently dared him to take his iffy jump shot, and he managed to convert it more successfully than he has most of the season.
Even more important was IU's ability to pull Craft into obvious fouling situations, getting him disqualified for only the second time this season.
While Craft's occasional ref-baiting histrionics wear thin on most other Big Ten fanbases, there's no denying that he is one of the league's quickest players. If Yogi Ferrell and the rest of the IU defense can make Craft's life that miserable, few other point guards in America are beyond the need for concern.
IU sixth man Will Sheehey came into this game having not made a three-point shot in three games. By the time he knocked one down this afternoon, he had missed 10 straight over the past 11 days.
His five points were the only ones produced by the Indiana bench, keeping the second string of Hoosiers firmly in the spotlight as a primary concern.
Ohio State's 9-0 run to take a first-half lead was partially accomplished with Cody Zeller, Yogi Ferrell and Victor Oladipo all on the bench, leaving the IU offense with no true creators. Players like Sheehey, Derek Elston and Jeremy Hollowell provide tremendous hustle when they enter the game, but none should be counted on as the primary scoring option at any time.
To his credit, Sheehey was quiet against Ohio State, forgoing any displays that would pick up an unnecessary technical foul like the one that came back to haunt him against Illinois. His frequent antics may, however, affect how he's treated as it pertains to personal fouls going forward.
Coach Crean will need to carefully weigh his substitution patterns as the games get more important. The Hoosiers may not be able to afford extended spans in March with Zeller, Oladipo and Ferrell out of the game.
It's hard work trying to pull a team back from a self-immolation like the Hoosiers committed against Illinois and prepare them to face a top-10 team on the road a mere three days later.
Tom Crean is frequently derided for his game-coaching skills, but the Hoosiers' game plan against OSU was well-conceived and even better executed.
The IU offense sent Amir Williams to the bench with two fouls before the first media timeout, beginning a systematic exploitation of the Buckeyes' lack of depth.
In the game's final four minutes, when Indiana fans were understandably nervous over a 16-point lead shrinking to 10, the Hoosiers' preparations held, with Ohio State getting no closer than eight.
Indiana was supremely prepared for the game's hostile atmosphere and the Buckeye lineup, disregarding the program's 13-year drought against top-10 teams on the road.
With trips to East Lansing, Minneapolis and Ann Arbor remaining on the schedule, the Hoosiers now have the win needed to convince themselves that they can win on a good team's court. That's the first step to convincing others, after all.
Cookie Monster is menacing Cody Zeller in this picture, but in the coming week, the Hoosiers may get the opportunity to become Cupcake Monsters.
Home games against Nebraska and Purdue are nothing if not a relief after the gauntlet Indiana has run over its last five games.
If, however, the Hoosiers slip up against either the Huskers or Boilermakers, look for all the criticisms of Crean's preparation and Indiana's intensity to reappear, perhaps justifiably so.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron, home of the exclusive Back Iron Index and Bracketometry, telling us which teams SHOULD be in the NCAA tournament come March.