It had all the makings of a classic “Potential upset bid runs out of steam” game for the Indiana Hoosiers, who led by as many as 15, when with 11:06 remaining they found themselves trailing the Michigan State Spartans for the first time all game.
But with the benefit of hindsight, it made total sense the Hoosiers would respond, just like they did to every Spartan challenge.
The Hoosiers did just that and held on for the gritty 67-63 win. The Hoosiers now sit tied for third in the Big Ten at 5-3 (15-4 overall), but they had to earn it from Michigan State on Thursday night.
Down 15 midway through the first half, the Spartans went on a 14-2 run to make it a one possession game with five minutes until halftime. Then Armaan Franklin drove to the basket and converted a tough lay-up and drew the foul. After making the foul shot, Franklin recovered a Michigan State turnover and found Race Thompson on the fastbreak to push the lead back to eight.
The Spartans recovered and cut it to four with just 25 seconds left until the half but again the Hoosiers responded as Al Durham hit a contested three right before the buzzer went off to push IU’s lead back to seven. It was Indiana’s first made three of the game after missing its first four.
“I give Michigan State a lot of credit. They took a big punch early. And, as we knew they would, they came right back,” said Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller. “I give our guys credit though. We found a way to gut it out.”
Michigan State came out hot to start the second half, as the Spartans made their first five threes but yet still trailed Indiana until the 11:48 mark when Malik Hall tied the game on his dunk. The Spartan defense would force a long two-point attempt from Justin Smith on the next possession and finally went ahead on a three from Rocket Watts.
Yet despite seeming like the Spartans would finally put the pesky Hoosiers away, Indiana gutted it out yet again.
Despite shooting just 21.3% from three-point range on the season coming into the game, Franklin tied the game back up on his own three-pointer just a few minutes later. From there, both teams traded turns having the lead until Durham hit his second three of the game, a go-ahead dagger from the right wing that broke a 60-60 tie with 1:52 left.
Rob Phinisee assisted on the huge three and on the next possession, after a Xavier Tillman basket cut Indiana’s lead to one, Phinisee found Joey Brunk for a layup to push it back to three with a minute to go. Brunk was a huge factor for the Hoosiers on the night, leading them in both points (14) and rebounds (six).
“He’s given his absolute max on everything that he’s doing. You never question his effort,” raved Miller. “His everyday approach is something, as a coach, you marvel at, the work ethic.”
The Hoosiers would have to hold on one more time as the Spartans had possession down two with nine seconds left. Cassius Winston, who had 13 of his game-high 17 points in the second half, got a screen and had IU’s freshman star Trayce Jackson-Davis one-on-one, but was unable to shake him as he was forced to dump it off to Tillman on the fly and he missed the layup. It was a perfectly designed ploy by Coach Miller as explained by Jackson-Davis.
“When we came out of the timeout, Coach called blue. Blue is our switch everything. And so I just didn’t want him to shoot a three. So I kind of baited him downhill and he took it, and I made a good play on the ball.”
It was the kind of win that took a total team effort, one that required all of the Hoosiers to not back down when Michigan State started turning up the heat. It’s the type of win that will hold a lot of value going forward, both as a resume win and as an example to look back on and gather strength from in future times of need.