On Saturday afternoon, the Indiana Hoosiers hosted the Northwestern Wildcats in a Big Ten showdown at Bloomington, Indiana.
This game had NCAA tournament seeding implications for Northwestern (20-9, 9-7 in Big Ten), who entered tied for fifth place in the conference with Michigan State. Indiana (16-13, 6-10) looked to reverse their recent trend after losing five consecutive games.
It was a game of incredible runs that that saw Northwestern jump out to a 26-14 lead at Assembly Hall. However, the Hoosiers responded with a 22-0 run to end the first half, capped by a Devonte Green half-court shot at the buzzer.
Northwestern opened the second half with a 17-3 run of their own to take back the lead at 41-40. After a Bryant McIntosh free throw made it 62-55 with 1:33 left, the Wildcats appeared to have total control. However, after a James Blackmon Jr. three pointer made it 62-60, a Thomas Bryant dunk and made free throw with just two seconds remaining secured the comeback for the Hoosiers.
Here’s what we learned.
What We Learned
1. Northwestern just blew a golden opportunity
This was a great chance for the Wildcats to firmly lock up an NCAA tournament bid. A 20-9 record with two home games remaining should certainly be good enough, but this game was a missed opportunity.
On the bright side, junior guard Scottie Lindsey looked much better in his third game back from illness, and scored in double-digits for the first time since January 29th.
Northwestern held Indiana to just 40 percent shooting for the field, a tall task for any team in Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers’ two best players, Blackmon and Bryant, combined to go only eight of 21 from the field. Throw in a mild 33 percent for the Hoosiers from three point range, and the Wildcats had the defensive blueprint for a big road victory.
This win would have guaranteed the Wildcats their first above .500 season in conference play since 1968.
2. Indiana still has a chance to make the NCAA Tournament
The Hoosiers entered the game in a free fall, having lost five consecutive Big Ten games. But this win preserves a chance for Indiana to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
They have two huge road games left: Purdue and Ohio State. While they will be underdogs, a win in both games plus a first round Big Ten tournament victory would give Indiana a total of 19 wins on the season. This would give them a chance to enter the 68 team field.
Junior guard James Blackmon Jr. has looked great since his return from a leg injury in early February. He finished with 13 points, including three of six from three point range. Indiana outrebounded Northwestern 42-33, as four different Hoosiers had at least five rebounds.
3. Northwestern needs to make three pointers on the road
The Wildcats have shot four of 18 from three point range in each of their last two conference road games. That equates to just 22.2 percent from beyond the arc. When Northwestern upset Wisconsin on the road back on February 12th, they shot seven of 17 from three point range (41.2 percent). The Wildcats are reliant on their long-range shooting when they are not at home.
The proficient three point shooting is even more important when the Wildcats fail to score inside. Sophomore forward Vic Law (12.9 points per game) has been slumping. Law has produced single digits points in three consecutive games. Sophomore center Dererk Pardon bounced back from a tough game at Illinois (six points) with a 12 point and 10 rebound effort against the Hoosiers.
This game was important for both teams, and kept Indiana’s hopes alive for a ticket to The Big Dance. The Tuesday night game at Purdue will be the Hoosiers’ big chance to salvage their season. In order to win, the Hoosiers will again need big performances from Thomas Bryant and James Blackmon Jr.
Northwestern heads home at just the right time, having lost three of their last four games. Both remaining contests will be extremely difficult matchups with a scalding hot Michigan team and Purdue coming to Evanston. The Wildcats need to be more efficient on offense while maintaining their consistent effort on defense.