Defensive Domination Helps Indiana Beat Northwestern And Earn Third Straight Conference Win

The Indiana Hoosiers flexed their defensive muscle on Sunday as they dominated the Northwestern Wildcats 66-46 to win their third straight conference game.

“I think on the defensive end it’s probably been our best game thus far,” said Robert Johnson, who lead the Hoosiers with a game-high 17 points, including five made three-pointers.

The Hoosiers (11-7, 4-2) immediately got into foul trouble from the start and had to play all but two minutes of the first half without Juwan Morgan and Zach McRoberts.

Without Morgan’s scoring and McRoberts’ passing, the Hoosiers survived the first half by turning the game into a grind-it-out slugfest. The Hoosiers shot just 30.0% (9 of 30) from the floor in the first half, but was able to hold the Wildcats to 24.0% (6 of 25) and took a 24-19 lead into halftime.

In the second half the Hoosiers got both Morgan and McRoberts back and the offense took off, hitting 60.9% (14 of 23) of their second half shots while continuing to disrupt Northwestern (11-8, 2-4), which shot only marginally better at 29.0% (9 of 31).

Here is a closer look at the defensive numbers, at least tracking back to the 1996-1997 season:

  • The 46 points allowed are tied for the third lowest allowed by the Hoosiers in a Big Ten game since 1996-97.
    • The lowest was 43 points allowed to Iowa in 2008.
    • The other games were against Northwestern in 2002 (44 points allowed) and against Illinois in 2014 (46 points allowed).
  • The Wildcats were held to 15 of 56 shooting, which comes out to 26.8% shooting.
    • That’s tied for the second lowest shooting percentage allowed by the Hoosiers in a Big Ten game dating back to the 96-97 season.
    • The Hoosiers held Michigan to 25.0% shooting in 2000 and held Ohio State to 26.8% shooting in 2002.
  • No Northwestern Wildcat scored double-digit points.
    • Leading scorer Scottie Lindsey shot an abysmal 1 of 15 from the floor and missed all seven shots from deep, finishing with just two points.
    • Vic Law and Isiah Brown got the closest as each scored nine points.

The Hoosiers now are tied for third in the Big Ten with their 4-2 conference record. And according to Johnson, the team has the ability to play even better.

“I think if we can build on (our defensive effort) and continue to tighten a couple of things up on the offensive side we’ll be in a good spot.”

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Hoosiers Aggressive On Offense and Defense During Blowout Win Over Morehead State

There was little doubt that Indiana would play better defensively after embarrassingly giving up 94 points to Duke on Wednesday. Yet the Hoosiers showed a defensive aggressiveness in their 92-59 win over the Morehead State Eagles that hasn’t been shown all season.

“Really proud of the effort, energy, attitude, the way they responded”, said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean about the aggression his team showed against the Eagles. “It’s been a long couple of weeks and I thought they did an outstanding job of learning and applying it and bringing their practice game and practice preparation to the course, and they did it for a long period of time.”

After giving up quite a few open shots when playing zone against Duke, Indiana stuck to playing man-to-man for most of the game against Morehead State. The Hoosiers not only succeeded in man-to-man coverage, but they looked a lot more comfortable than they did when playing the zone the past few games. That comfort aided a suddenly confident defense as they held the Eagles to a season-low 59 points and only let them shoot 31.4 % from the floor.

“We were a little more connected in our coverages, and especially with our switching”, said Coach Crean. “Their mind-set was excellent. They were rotating well. We were drawing charges. We didn’t spend the game in rotation.”

Indiana was also aggressive on offense, attempting a season-low 15 three-pointers and instead they scored 46 points in the post by driving to the basket, scoring layups in transition, and getting the ball in the paint when a Hoosier was either open or had a mismatch. Because the Hoosiers went to the basket so much, it led to a season-high 36 free throw attempts. The Hoosiers took advantage as they shot 75% or better from the free throw line for the third game in a row after failing to reach 70% in five of their first six games.

The Eagles, who came into the game allowing the second fewest points per game in the NCAA at 55.2, ran a Wisconsin-style grind-it-out offense to limit Indiana’s offensive possessions and it worked for the first seven minutes as Morehead State held a 13-12 lead. Yet the Hoosiers were able to speed up the pace and from the 13:30 to 4:00 minutes left in the first half the Hoosiers went on a 27-6 run to take control of the game and would never relinquish it. Due to the faster pace, the slow-it-down Eagles committed 23 turnovers, which the Hoosiers turned into 27 points. The Eagles also committed 28 personal fouls.

The Hoosiers will be off for a few days but will return to action this coming Wednesday against IPFW in Assembly Hall. The game will start at 7pm but will not be broadcasted on television so check for radio stations, such as IU’s student-run WIUX 99.1 FM, if you can’t attend the game.

 

Stats From The Boxscore:

  • Indiana had five players score in double-figures. Troy Williams led the Hoosiers with 16 points, James Blackmon Jr. and Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell both had 15 points, Thomas Bryant had 14 points, and Max Bielfeldt scored 12 points off the bench.
  • Both Bryant (4 of 4) and Bielfeldt (5 of 5) were perfect from the floor while Williams only missed on shot (6 of 7).
  • Ferrell’s layup with 14:07 left in the first half made him the 16th Indiana Hoosier to score 1,500 career points.
  • Ferrell also recorded seven assists, which now has him four away from claiming third on IU’s all-time assist list.
  • Not only did the Hoosiers attempt a season-low 15 three-pointers, but they only made 33.3% of those shots, tying their worst mark of the season (IU also shot 33.3% from deep against Eastern Illinois).
  • In addition to holding Morehead State to a season-low 59 points, the Hoosiers’ 92 points are the most the Eagles have allowed all season, with the previous high being 66 points allowed to Illinois State.

Mistakes In Maui And How The Hoosiers Can Learn From Them

After starting the season with three dominating wins, the Indiana Hoosiers traveled to Hawaii hoping to add some games against top-tier opponents to their resume. Unfortunately the Hoosiers never got a chance to face the best teams as the Hoosiers stumbled to a 1-2 record and a sixth place finish in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.

The Hoosiers lost in the first round of the tournament to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 82-78 and thus were placed in the loser’s bracket for the rest of the trip. The two consolation games ended up being a 83-73 win over the St. John’s Red Storm and a 72-69 loss to the UNLV Rebels.

While the two losses hurt, it was how the Hoosiers lost those games that hurt the most and felt all too familiar.

All of the defensive improvement the Hoosiers showed during their first three games of the season vanished as opponents were able to score at ease, especially on post-ups and drives to the basket. The Hoosiers allowed 50 points in the first half to the Demon Deacons, 42 points in the second half to the Red Storm, and 41 points in the first half to the Rebels. In the case of the two losses, the Hoosiers did make defensive improvements at the start of the second half only to fall short when it came to the closing minutes.

Now while there was some troubling play this past week it doesn’t mean the Hoosiers are doomed to repeat what happened last season. In fact, if the whole team embraces reviewing these games and learns from their mistakes, the season will still have a lot of promise. Here are some of the mistakes that need correcting:

Consistent aggression: The Hoosiers played some of their most inspired defense during the first 10 minutes of the second half against the Demon Deacons. They contested every post-up and never allowed guards the opportunity to drive to the basket. However, whether it was fatigue or playing scared and trying not to lose the lead, the Hoosiers went away from that aggressive play. For a team that tries to wear out their opponent with their pace, I think the switch in mindsets (from being the trailing team to the team with the lead) is what tripped them up the most. Many teams become a lot less aggressive when they have the lead because aggressive play can lead to mistakes. However, despite the possibility of mistakes, aggressive play also puts a ton of pressure on the team that is trailing to be even more aggressive, thus making the opposing team likely to make even more mistakes. If the Hoosiers can continue to play their pace even when they have the lead they can make it harder for teams to come back on them.

Situational defense: I think we all learned this past week that this Hoosier team isn’t going to be a top 25 defense this season but that is OK. The Hoosiers don’t have to be defensively brilliant to reach their ceiling; they just have to focus on which situations require them to play to the best of their ability. Most of those situations occur in the final four minutes of games where a lot of Big Ten games will be won or lost. Knowing the situation is probably the biggest improvement this team can make. In the Wake Forest game, the Demon Deacons were able to drive to the basket simply because a defender was more focused on preventing a pass to the post than cutting off the driving lane to the basket. Preventing driving lanes is one of the best ways to stall out an offense that needs to score quickly and forces the opponent to rely more on jumpshots, which percentage-wise is an advantage for the defense. Knowing how to position yourself in those situations will require a lot of practicing and drills but it will make end-of-games situations a bit more favorable.

Crunch-time offense: This was maybe the most surprising development that happened in Maui. A lot of people expected the defense to be a recurring problem but several times the offense stagnated and thus let opposing teams take advantage of the Hoosiers’ suspect defense. The Indiana offense thrives on ball movement but more often than not the ball was only in one person’s hands for the majority of its late-game possessions and when the ball did move it was more for the sake of just moving the ball instead of trying to get someone open. Again I’m not sure if this has to due with nerves or not, but because the offense stops scoring in crunch time it places a lot of pressure on the defense to hold the lead or keep the deficit small. Some late-game plays may need to be drawn up during practice specifically for these types of situations going forward as it seems the Hoosiers can’t play at their usual pace during crunch time and thus feel uncomfortable in those situations.

There is no doubt in my mind that the coaching staff is already drilling the players on how to improve in these areas. As long as the players learn and implement these lessons going forward this team will be fine. After all, it’s only November.

Stats From The Boxscore:

Due to the drastically different play of some Hoosiers during this tournament, I decided to use this edition of Stats From The Boxscore to highlight some of the main players’ averages during the past three games and compare them to their first three games. There will be no analysis; this will just be for those who are curious about how differently some key Hoosiers played this last week.

  • Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell
    • First three games: 16.7ppg, 7.3rpg, 7.0apg, 1.33spg, 2.7tpg, 1.3fpg, 52.8% FG, 37.5% 3FG, 85.7% FT, 30.0mpg.
    • Three games in Maui: 14.0ppg, 5.7rpg, 7.0apg, 1.33spg, 2.3tpg, 1.3fpg, 40.6% FG, 25.0% 3FG, 73.7% FT, 35.0mpg.
  • James Blackmon Jr.
    • First three games: 18.7ppg, 5.3rpg, 3.0apg, 0.67spg, 3.0tpg, 0.7fpg, 55.3% FG, 55.0% 3FG, 100.0% FT, 24.7mpg.
    • Three games in Maui: 10.0ppg, 4.0rpg, 1.3apg, 1.67spg, 0.33bpg, 4.0tpg, 2.7fpg, 39.3% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 66.7% FT, 23.0mpg.
  • Troy Williams
    • First three games: 13.0ppg, 5.7rpg, 2.7apg, 1.67spg, 0.67bpg, 2.3tpg, 2.7fpg, 53.3% FG, 25.0% 3FG, 50.0% FT, 26.0mpg.
    • Three games in Maui: 10.7ppg, 6.0rpg, 3.3apg, 2.33spg, 1.00bpg, 3.3tpg, 2.0fpg, 54.5% FG, 40.0% 3FG, 75.0% FT, 27.3mpg.
  • Thomas Bryant
    • First three games: 13.0ppg, 7.3rpg, 1.0apg, 0.33spg, 1.67bpg, 1.0tpg, 2.3fpg, 80.0% FG, 20.0% 3FG, 66.7% FT, 22.3mpg.
    • Three games in Maui: 11.3ppg, 4.7rpg, 1.0apg, 0.33spg, 1.33bpg, 1.3tpg, 2.7fpg, 60.0% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 55.6% FT, 25.0mpg.
  • Max Bielfeldt
    • First three games: 7.3ppg, 4.3rpg, 2.00spg, 0.33bpg, 1.0tpg, 2.0fpg, 53.3% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 83.3% FT, 17.3mpg.
    • Three games in Maui: 9.7ppg,  3.0rpg, 0.7apg, 1.00spg, 0.33bpg, 1.3tpg, 3.3fpg, 80.0% FG, 66.7% 3FG, 25.0% FT, 20.0mpg.
  • Colin Hartman
    • First three games: 2.7ppg, 3.0rpg, 1.0apg, 1.67spg, 0.7tpg, 2.7fpg, 36.4% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 18.3mpg.
    • Three games in Maui: 3.7ppg, 2.7rpg, 0.7apg, 0.67spg, 0.67bpg, 1.3tpg, 3.7fpg, 42.9% FG, 42.9% 3FG, 100.0% FT, 17.7mpg.
  • Rob Johnson
    • First three games: 7.0ppg, 2.3rpg, 3.3apg, 0.33spg, 2.7tpg, 2.3fpg, 53.3% FG, 50.0% 3FG, 16.7mpg.
    • Three games in Maui: 7.0ppg, 2.0rpg, 3.0apg, 1.0tpg, 1.3fpg, 38.9% FG, 50.0% 3FG, 42.9% FT, 22.7mpg.
  • Nick Zeisloft
    • First three games: 9.0ppg, 1.3rpg, 1.0apg, 0.33spg, 0.33bpg, 0.3tpg, 1.3fpg, 64.3% FG, 64.3% 3FG, 19.3mpg.
    • Three games in Maui: 9.3ppg, 2.7rpg, 0.7apg, 0.33bpg, 1.0tpg, 0.7fpg, 56.3% FG, 57.1% 3FG, 100.0% FT, 20.3mpg.