Even the most optimistic Indiana Hoosier fan couldn’t help but feel depressed when the under 16 timeout in the second half rolled around and Indiana was trailing the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 54-40 in what was the Hoosiers last chance at a signature non-conference win. Yet the final 15 minutes saw Indiana take one last stand and against the odds the Hoosiers pulled through and left Indianapolis with an 80-73 win. Among the euphoria of winning sprouted many questions for the Hoosiers going forward and whether or not this win can turn around the season. That is still to be determined, but here are three things that are a little more clear after those fantastic final 15 minutes:
- The Hoosiers are capable of playing great defense: It’s not like the Hoosiers haven’t had good defensive stretches this season but they usually happened against overmatched teams. This was really the first time the Hoosiers have flexed their defensive muscle against a quality opponent. While the Irish collapsing did play a huge part in the comeback, the Hoosiers deserve credit for not giving up when the walls started caving in (more on this in a moment) and executing the 2-3 zone surprisingly well for a team that Head Coach Tom Crean admitted didn’t do a lot of zone preparation prior to the game because Notre Dame has had a lot of success against zone defense.
- This team is very mentally strong: Hoosier Nation is a proud group with extremely high expectations, so when the Hoosiers play like they did in the first half the crowd reacted with extreme displeasure. With the losses at Maui, the blowout at Duke, and the huge deficit against Notre Dame all bearing down on this team, would the team implode or come together? To Hoosier Nation’ pleasant surprise it was the latter. Overcoming adversity is a necessary trait for any great team in any team sport and while that trait doesn’t guarantee greatness it does signify that said team is capable of being great. Players like James Blackmon Jr. and Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell showed this trait as both hit big threes during the comeback despite being liabilities for most of the game. Now it’s up to Indiana to run with this momentum.
- The lineup might be seeing a huge shake up: I’m a little doubtful that a huge shakeup will happen in the starting lineup, but there may at the least be a minutes shakeup. O.G. Anunoby is extremely raw offensively but there’s no way to deny that he is one of if not the Hoosiers’ best defender. Indiana has enough offensive firepower that it can occasionally play 4-on-5 offensively so that shouldn’t prevent playing Anunoby. One of those offensive weapons is Rob Johnson, who has been outstanding during the past couple of starts after starting the year on the bench. I don’t think it matters if the move back to the starting lineup was long-term or short-term, because Johnson has earned his place in the starting lineup. Without him playing starter minutes, the Hoosiers would have been in too big of a hole to mount that comeback. There are many other possible moves, but if that late-game run taught us anything it’s that this team has the players it’s just about playing them in the right spots.