Pitt has earned a reputation in recent years of bullying its opponents at Madison Square Garden, but it was the Hoosiers who socked the Panthers in the mouth and took their lunch money.
A late spurt by the Panthers quickly brought things to within six, but it was too little too late. IU put together such a large lead, that even a late game Panther run could not have stolen the Hoosiers’ biggest win of the Tom Crean era.
For the first time under Crean, IU truly looked like and played like a veteran team – perhaps a glimpse into the future of Hoosier basketball.
IU went in to the Madison Square Garden locker room at the half with a four-point lead, but for once their best basketball was ahead of them.
Despite a pinched nerve and being banged up on virtually every part of his body, junior Jeremiah Rivers’ first half play was a big reason the Hoosiers were positioned to win.
The Hoosiers outscored Pitt 32-23 in the first half with the 6-foot-5 guard out on the floor. When he was on the bench, however, IU struggled to penetrate – his bread and butter on offense – and was outscored 6-0 by the Panthers.
Freshman Christian Watford did an excellent job of getting to the free throw line, especially early in the game, even when his shot wasn’t falling. Even when fellow freshman Maurice Creek had struggles of his own, it never set the team back.
Verdell Jones’ 22 points almost speaks for itself, as the sophomore quietly, yet consistently hurt the Pitt defense.
While this wasn’t the Pitt Panthers we have grown accustomed to seeing under Jamie Dixon, nothing should be taken away from the Hoosiers. Forget that Kentucky comes to Assembly Hall on Saturday, they deserve every moment before their next practice to soak in this win.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas called this a “program building win,” and it certainly is one that will help the Hoosiers go forward.
Madison Square Garden can be a scary place to play for such young players, but they handled every minute of it.
So perhaps it was Alicia Keys’ words, “Big lights will inspire you,” from Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” that motivated the Hoosiers on this night.
Let’s hear it for New York. Let’s hear it for IU.
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