Indiana earned its most impressive win to date this season against #23 Butler this afternoon and Coach Crean earned his 300th win. No matter the result - Indiana's season was going to be turned today. A win would turn things in a positive direction after questions had started to creep into the fan base following the loss to an under rated Eastern Washington team and a blowout loss to a top ranked Louisville team. A loss could have turned things in an extremely negative direction as Indiana fans do not enjoy struggling against Butler - ever. With all that said - Kevin Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams were not going to let the negativity continue to creep into the program.
In the first half, it looked like Indiana may start to run away with the game as they led 37-27 behind a strong performance from Troy Williams. Kellen Dunham had other ideas though as he went on a 7-0 run himself to tie the game back up 38-38 at halftime. When you consider that Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon combined for two points in the first half - it is actually stunning that the Hoosiers were tied. Yogi picked up two early fouls which not only hurt Indiana offensively, but left the Hoosiers without their only defensive stopper on Kellen Dunham and he obviously took full advantage with 18 first half points including that late 7-0 run.
Butler opened the second half strong by taking a quick four point lead, but then Yogi Ferrell absolutely took over. He ended the game with 20 points (after having 0 in the first half) and also played the best defense by far of any Hoosier player this season as he held Dunham to only 5 points in the second half and forced several bad shots by the sharpshooter. The other star performance in this 82-73 Hoosier victory was Troy Williams who scored 22 and pulled down 11 boards. If Williams is able to put those numbers up consistently - Indiana has a case to be a Top 3 or 4 team in the B1G. So what did we learn in this solid performance by the Hoosiers?
Yogi Ferrell can be and is a defensive stopper - The Hoosiers have struggled on defense all season long and did struggle at times against Butler as well, but one player has emerged as the clear defensive leader - and that is Kevin Yogi Ferrell. Without even going back to watch the tape, it is obvious what kind of performance Ferrell had in this game. Kellen Dunham had 18 points in the first half and was making it look easy during his personal 7-0 run to end the half. Ferrell spent most of the half on the bench with 2 fouls leaving Dunham loose on the court. When Yogi returned in the second half - Dunham couldn't buy a basket. He was the player Butler needed to free up late with the game still within reach - and he couldn't do it. Ferrell was all over him and the game would end with Dunham only getting 5 points in the second half. If that defensive performance doesn't happen - the Hoosiers not only lose this game, but they lose it in a big way in my opinion. Yogi proved he is the man on defense going forward and he will draw the opposing team's top guard the rest of the way. Coach Crean had high praise afterwards stating, "He is one of the best two way players I have ever had the pleasure to coach."
"He is one of the best two way players I have ever had the pleasure to coach" - Tom Crean referring to Yogi Ferrell
Troy Williams can play under control - I said in my season preview that Troy Williams was the X-Factor on this basketball team and he has been tremendously underwhelming until today. Williams had a coming out party scoring 22 and recording 11 rebounds. Perhaps a better statistic for him than either of those numbers was the 2 turnovers. For most of the night, Williams stayed under control which hasn't been seen in any game yet this season. And what happened? The best game of his career - by far. When he is able to drive to the basket under control, he is also able to find the wide open three point shooters, and when a team has a 6'7" player that has that capability - it adds a whole other dimension to the offense. It will be interesting to watch Williams going forward now. Can he build on this game or is he going to regress into the out of control basketball player that has frustrated so many fans for the past season and a half? The Hoosiers only have one cupcake left on the schedule, so Williams needs to mature quickly and today was certainly a move in the right direction.
Indiana can win even when James Blackmon Jr doesn't play well - Blackmon really looked off his game in this one. He would finish 2-12 for only 5 points which is by far his worst output as a Hoosier. He did add 8 rebounds which was a huge help in that department, but he is on this team to score at a high rate. The fact that Indiana was able to win this one with that kind of output makes it even that much more impressive. Blackmon was actually benched to start the second half along with fellow freshman Robert Johnson as Coach Crean seemed to realize the stage may have been a little too big for the freshmen. He did contribute a key three point play late in the second half, but that was about the only highlight offensively for the young superstar. Given the Hoosiers won anyway, I think this will be a great learning experience for Blackmon as these were really his first struggles on the college level and there are going to be more as we head into B1G season. He has to learn how to calm down and play through those struggles a bit better and today will hopefully be eye opening in that regard.
The Hoosiers will have a short turn around as they take on their final cupcake non-conference opponent of the year in New Orleans on Monday night. For Hoosier Nation, all attention now turns to Georgetown in Madison Square Garden a week from today before a brutal opening stretch to conference season.