Indiana came into this afternoon's game after its most disappointing effort of the season in East Lansing on Monday night. The Hoosiers hadn't played at home since December 22nd against New Orleans and it looked like they were lost to start the game. Indiana had 5 turnovers at the first media timeout and trailed 9-2 in what seemed to be a continuation of the terrible play against Michigan State. Many in the stands, watching on television, or listening to the great Don Fischer likely were getting ready to write this season off. Starting center, and only true big man, Hanner Mosquera-Perea was on the bench with two quick fouls and Indiana had no answers for the Buckeyes. The ball movement which had been a strength in non-conference play was no longer existent and Indiana seemed to be standing around waiting for someone to make a big play.
Then it happened - and not by whom you might think. Collin Hartman came in to play center for the Hoosiers and he immediately contributed a three point play opportunity (although he missed the free throw). He then continued his stellar play on the defensive end which led to a fast break trey from Nick Zeisloft. All the sudden two unheralded bench players from Indiana had turned the tide against the #22 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes as they have done so many times this season. Indiana fans love fundamental basketball players that make the hustle plays and not many ovations this afternoon were louder than the ones given to Hartman and Zeisloft. While the students are not back in school, The Assembly Hall, got as loud as it has gotten all season and it was all driven by the hustle of two guys.
Troy Williams took advantage of the newly found energy as he contributed 8 rebounds in the first half to go along with 8 points which included a couple rim rocking dunks. When Williams plays with the energy he played with today, as I have said many times before, Indiana is a different basketball team. His ability to drive covers up the lack of size down low and enables shooters to get open to either hit a long jumper or ball fake and take it to the rim themselves which often causes an "and one" scenario. The Hoosiers turned that 9-2 deficit into a halftime lead of 32-26 and were in prime position to knock off the #22 ranked Buckeyes.
Indiana has come out slow a number of times in the second half this season, but today would not be one of those days. Troy Williams delivered another dunk and James Blackmon Jr., who had been absent virtually since December, contributed a layup and a three pointer to get things going. From here though, things got a bit slowed and ugly. Both teams had a hard time converting baskets, but the Buckeyes were able to cut the lead down to 46-43 with about 10 minutes to play. Then - Troy Williams happened again in what is a guaranteed SportsCenter Top 10 appearance. He started the fast break and took it all the way for a highlight reel dunk, and instead of celebrating - he turned around and sprinted down the court for a highlight reel block on Keita Bates-Diop that got the crowd into a fever pitch. After this sequence, the Hoosiers got a slight boost - but the game remained back and forth the rest of the way in what can only be described as heart stopping television despite infamous referee Ted Valentine doing his best to make himself the center of attention over and over again in the final minutes.
While the last couple of minutes may have been confusing to watch from a referee standpoint, it also represented a young Indiana basketball team with zero seniors compared to the six on Ohio State's roster proving they could close out a basketball game against a talented ranked opponent. Blackmon, who had a huge 16 point second half while also outplaying fellow freshman of the year candidate D'Angelo Russell, and Ferrell hit the necessary free throws down the stretch to put the game away and give the Hoosiers a 69-66 victory in the first home game of the conference season. The most surprising statistic in this one was a 48-39 edge on the boards for Indiana against a very tall and talented OSU team. Also, consider the fact that Indiana pursued big man Anthony Lee as hard as anyone in the off-season, but ended up getting Emmitt Holt in August. Lee, of course, ended up at Ohio State and contributed 0 points and 0 boards in 4 minutes played today compared to Holt who had 5 points and 7 rebounds. Not many people would have given that edge to Indiana coming into the season. Holt has been a major steal late in the recruiting game and it will benefit Indiana for years to come. Given his play today and the continued struggles of Perea, it may not be long before Holt cracks the starting lineup.
The Hoosiers didn't shoot well from three (22.2%), but they won the game with heart, toughness, and guts - and that is what Indiana needs going forward in the B1G Conference. If you can combine better shooting with that - this Hoosier team could be downright scary. Indiana will return to The Assembly Hall court a few days from now looking for revenge against a struggling Penn State team with a great chance to get to 3-1 in what was viewed as one of the more difficult starts to conference play of any team.