Tipoff: Ball State at Indiana, 6 p.m. Sunday
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This is exactly what Indiana needed in its trip to Brooklyn. It got a pair of tough-as-they-come tests, responded under crunch-time pressure, thrived when it would have been easy to buckle.
The Hoosiers (5-0) played to their top-ranked stature. Soon-to-be-ranked Georgetown (3-1) pushed them to the limit, just as Georgia had done the previous night.
The result – a fifth straight double-digit victory.
IU's 82-72 overtime win Tuesday night showcased the veteran poise crucial to success. The Hoosiers didn't blink with they blew a seven-point lead in the final minute. They hit most of their overtime free throws. They out-rebounded a bigger team by 10. They defended fiercely down the stretch.
Coach Tom Crean talked afterward to ESPN's Andy Katz about his team's “great toughness” and “great passion.” Because he's a demanding coach, he emphasized the Hoosiers have to rebound better. What he didn't say, but what will certainly be addressed, is the free-throw shooting.
IU had a few free-throw glitches –- OK, freshman guard Yogi Ferrell missed a couple down the stretch that fueled the Georgetown rally –- but he bounced back strong in overtime, including his are-you-kidding-me three-pointer. So did the Hoosiers, who were 13-for-17 from the line in overtime.
Indiana forward Cody Zeller, the preseason player of the year, shook off Monday's six-point night to total 17 points and eight rebounds. He made the all-tourney team.
Zeller will continue to get most of the hype –- did Sports Illustrated REALLY call him the “Big Handsome” while putting him on the cover of its college basketball issue? –- but in so many ways, this team belongs to senior guard Jordan Hulls.
Yes, that's the same Hulls who was named Legends Classic MVP. He had 17 points against Georgetown to follow up the 14-point total he had the previous night against Georgia. He was a big reason why the Hoosiers were 10-for-17 from three-point range.
Hulls has improved his quickness, which will be huge in keeping defenders in front of him. He remains one of the nation's best three-point and free-throw shooters. He's become a strong leader, in part because he hates to lose.
But then, that's true of all the Hoosiers.
Their attack-the-basket approach paid huge dividends. They were 26-for-36 from the line compared to Georgetown's 9-for-10. A conspiracy theorist – can you say Hoya Paranoia? – would blame the disparity on bad officiating, but the truth is IU aggressively drove to the hole, while the Hoyas often settled for three-pointers.
Indiana's defense is improved, but not perfect. It allowed Georgetown to go 8-for-14 on three-pointers in the first half (the Hoyas finished 11-for-26), mostly because it had to go to a 2-3 zone to try to counter the Hoyas' inside size advantage. The Hoyas have impressive length, which likely will cause all sorts of problems in the Big East. They play with intensity and purpose.
The Hoosiers handled it.
Coach Tom Crean's message afterward was simple – keep getting better every day.
What, you were expecting a Win One for the Gipper speech?
Anyway, IU is good now. Imagine what it will be like when it reaches full strength. Freshman forwards Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin are awaiting a decision on their appeal of nine-game suspensions for accepting impermissible benefits (rumors erupted Tuesday afternoon that the players had been reinstated – not true). At worst, they'll be available for the Dec. 15 game against Butler. At best they'll play in Sunday's game against Ball State.
Senior forward Derek Elston is recovering from knee surgery and is expected back by late December.
Elston and Perea figure to provide the biggest inside boost, and the Hoosiers will need it when they face such Big Ten heavyweights as Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.
The Big Ten world won't be the crush-teams-in-Assembly Hall-by-50-points IU experienced in its first three games. The conference will be filled with down-to-the wire cliffhangers that only the strong can survive.
As top-ranked Indiana showed, it is plenty strong.