There were five games on Monday night, with a pair of Big Ten programs facing off against a pair of ACC programs in a preview of the upcoming Big Ten - ACC Challenge. The biggest narrative from Monday was the Hoosiers losing in their opening game out in Maui. The loss was dreadful for the Hoosiers, but this team was fully capable of overcoming an early season loss last year to Eastern Washington about a year ago. It's still going to light a match for the anti-Crean faction, though, and is likely to be a major storyline if Indiana underwhelms in their next two games this week.
Game of the Night: Wake Forest 82 #13 Indiana 78
Every year there's a sizable section within the Hoosier fan base that has pushed for the firing of Tom Crean. That of course led to this year's interesting setup, with Indiana being one of the best teams in the nation, yet the season possibly being a 'make or break' year for Tom Crean. Well, losing to Wake Forest in Maui has definitely brought the anti-Tom Crean faction out in hordes.
The Hoosiers struggled last year with defense and rebounds and through three games Indiana also struggled heavily with turnovers. Committing nine turnovers in the first half didn't help Indiana much, with Wake Forest taking advantage of a strong shooting performance to take a five point lead into the break. It was mentioned that Indiana could get past their issues when they shoot lights out, but the question was how they would look on a night where the shoots didn't fall so easily. We found out tonight as Indiana shot a season low 43.3% from the field and only 34.5% from beyond the arc, with Yogi Ferrell and James Blackmon Jr. only scoring a combined 16 points.
Indiana's defensive woes reared their ugly head versus the Demon Deacons, allowing Wake to shoot 50.7% from the field and score 82 points. The Hoosiers were also out rebounded by 13, including allowing 18 offensive rebounds. Wake Forest found a way to dominate the glass and used it to score repeatedly inside, helping them pull off the upset.
The Hoosiers did look like they were about to finally take care of business, opening up a 75-67 lead with under five minutes remaining. Unfortunately they then allowed Wake Forest to go on a 15-3 run to close the game while not making a field goal in the last 2:59. Troy Williams tied it in the closing seconds when he split a pair of free throws, but a Bryant Crawford layup put them back down two when this woeful coaching decision happened:
One of the more depressing aspects of this loss is the fact that it drops Indiana into the bottom half of the bracket, meaning they won't draw the best team in the field (Kansas) and will have to settle for lesser competition, with a bad St. Johns team up next.
- Northwestern Wildcats 69, #9 North Carolina 80
I don't think many people thought Northwestern would be able to keep pace with the Tar Heels, though the Wildcats looked fully capable of hanging with North Carolina throughout the first half. The team saw impressive performances from Alex Olah and Tre Demps, while Scottie Lindsey got off to a quick start from the bench. Unfortunately for Northwestern, things fizzled at the end of the half as their 35-29 lead quickly evaporated to a seven point deficit entering the break.
North Carolina didn't slow down in the second half, quickly opening up a double digit lead over the Wildcats and managing to keep their opponent at the bay the rest of the way. Northwestern did manage to keep the Tar Heels from completely blowing the door open, but couldn't find a way to get over the hump after North Carolina closed out the first half on a quick run. Guard Tre Demps put in a valiant effort, scoring a team-high 21 points for the Wildcats. It was a rough night for Bryant McIntosh, though, as he only hit on 3 of his 15 field goals, with Northwestern needing him if they wanted to pull the upset. While it could have went better, Northwestern keeping pace with North Carolina was definitely the teams best outing so far, especially following an impressive overtime win over Columbia.
- #3 Michigan State Spartans, 89 Eastern Michigan 65
The Spartans have been the hottest team in the conference, rolling through a pair of cupcakes and knocking off a top five Kansas program at a neutral site. Things stayed more or less the same as Michigan State rolled through Eastern Michigan tonight. Michigan State's stifling defense held the Eagles to 33.8% shooting from the field, while the Spartans also came close to doubling up EMU on the glass (56-29 rebound advantage). Star Denzel Valentine had a bit more down to earth performance, though he still added 12 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists for State. Five players reached double digits for the Spartans, led by Deyonta Davis and his 16 points off the bench, and Michigan State coasted to another easy victory.
- Illinois Fighting Illini, 82 Chicago State 79
Illinois got off to a rough start in the first half against Chicago State, entering the break down by eight points thanks to a dreadful 28.1% performance from the field, including hitting only 3 of their 14 three point attempts. Luckily the Illini were able to get to the line quite a bit early on, drawing 17 free throw attempts in the first 20 minutes. Their free throw advantage carried into the second half, with Illinois taking advantage of a whopping 41 free throws to stay in the game long enough to come from behind to secure the victory. Even then it took two dreadful Chicago State turnovers leading to five points in the closing minutes, with Jalen Coleman-Lands hitting a corner three at the end of regulation for the much needed win.
- Rutgers Scarlet Knights 75 vs. Creighton 85
The Scarlet Knights have really been a question mark so far this season. Sure, the team was 3-1 on the year, but three of the wins came against pretty weak opponents and the one loss came on the road to an underwhelming St. John's team in a dramatic finish. As such, the verdict was still out on this Rutgers team.
On Monday night, Rutgers actually showed up and played pretty well against a decent Creighton team, despite eventually falling shot by a final score of 85-75. It's not a performance that is going to get anybody to think Rutgers is suddenly an NCAA Tournament team, but perhaps enough to get a little confidence about a postseason run of some form in March.
The top performers for the Scarlet Knights in this game were Corey Sanders,who had 21 points, four assists, and three rebounds and Deshawn Freeman who had 14 points and seven rebounds. Additionally, Bishop Daniels had a pretty nice game with 17 points. It was a disappointing loss, but something to build on going forward.