BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP)—Suddenly, beating ranked opponents is becoming a regular thing for Indiana.
Six days after snapping a 19-game losing streak against Top 25 foes, the Hoosiers did it again Wednesday night—and this time the fans didn’t even storm the court.
Juniors Tom Pritchard and Verdell Jones each scored 12 points, and the Hoosiers led from start to finish, holding off two second-half comebacks by No. 18 Minnesota for a 60-57 victory.
“Last week’s win definitely boosted our confidence. I think we got five straight stops at the end of that game and we got a couple of more like that tonight,” Pritchard said. “I think we’ve grown into being a good team.”
The Hoosiers (12-11, 3-7 Big Ten) still have plenty to prove, but they are making strides.
On Wednesday, three of Indiana’s projected opening-day starters—Maurice Creek (fractured knee), Guy-Marc Michel (ineligible) and Christian Watford (broken hand)—were dressed in street clothes. A fourth, Jones, come off the bench with inflammation in his right knee. It was Jones’ first game action since Jan. 20.
And yet after watching Minnesota (16-6, 5-5) cut a 16-point lead to one with 3:05 to go, the Hoosiers buckled down and played the way coach Tom Crean expects.
“The accountability in the huddle form player to player was finally real,” Crean said. “It was direct, in the sense of ‘We’ve got to finish this out.’ In all those huddles at the end, all they were talking about was finishing. When this team plays on edge, and if they can continue to develop belief, they’re going to be really good.”
Minnesota (16-6, 5-5) can already see the difference.
When these teams last met, Jan. 4 in Minneapolis, it was the Gophers who held on for a 67-63 win.
This time, the Hoosiers never let Minnesota take the lead or even tie the score.
Austin Hollins missed the first chance to tie it when he clanked a free throw with 3:05 to go. Then, in the closing seconds, Blake Hoffarber, Minnesota’s best 3-point shooter, had a chance to force overtime with a 3 from the left wing. It hit the front of the rim, Indiana freshman Victor Oladipo grabbed the rebound and cradled the ball in his arms as time ran out.
“You’ve got to set the tone and we didn’t do that,” coach Tubby Smith said. “We weren’t doing any of the little things. They were outworking us and outhustling us, simple as that.”
Indiana has now beaten two ranked teams in the same season for the first time since 2007-08, and the Hoosiers came within one basket of sweeping three straight Top 25 games. They lost 84-83 in overtime Sunday at No. 25 Michigan State.
Their next chance for No. 3, something Indiana hasn’t done since 2005-06, could come Tuesday night at rival Purdue.
How much has changed in a week?
After beating then No. 20 Illinois 52-49, students rushed the court and Crean jumped up in the air in the hallway. This time, Crean and his players went into the stands to high-five fans.
“Everybody’s on the same page now, and our communication has gone way up,” Pritchard said after one of the best games of his three-year career.
The Gophers were playing again without point guard Al Nolen and it showed.
They struggled to get the ball inside, opened the game just 3 of 15 from the field and dug themselves into a 24-10 hole midway through the first half. At halftime, they still trailed 33-21.
That’s when Minnesota finally rallied. Hoffarber and Hollins sparked an 11-4 run to get Minnesota to 39-34. Hoffarber finished with 15 points, while Hollins had 13.
The Hoosiers, however, answered with an 11-0 run to make it 50-34 with 9:48 left.
But the Gophers weren’t finished.
Sampson started the next run with a 10-foot jumper and when Hollins completed a three-point play, the Gophers were at 55-53. On the next Indiana possession, Hollins stripped the ball from Derek Elston, drew an immediate foul and went to the free throw line where he made the first and missed the second.
“I think we were just playing harder,” Hoffarber said.
Oladipo then hit two free throws for the Hoosiers, and Jones knocked down a 3 to make it 60-54.
Minnesota closed to 60-57 on Chip Armelin’s 12-footer with 41.5 seconds to go, and when Jordan Hulls missed a jumper on the next Indiana possession, Smith drew up a play for Hoffarber to force overtime.
“I kind of fumbled it and it hit my knee and kind of rolled around, so I didn’t get a good look at it,” he said. “It was right on line.”
Indiana just would not lose.
“Dan Moore wanted the matchup and I gave it to him,” Crean said. “We knew one way or the other he (Hoffarber) was coming off the screen or he was going to inbound it and they were going to find them. That’s exactly what they did and we played it excellent.”