Like a slow-cooker, it took time. But after 22 months, one coaching change and 40 minutes, IU got its first Big Ten road win since Feb. 23, 2008.
The 67-61 win was not only coach Tom Crean’s first conference victory outside of Assembly Hall, it was the first time in five meetings – including three times last year – IU beat Penn State.
The Nittany Lions (8-10, 0-6) never led during the game and it was the first time in their conference schedule that the Hoosiers (9-9, 3-3) did not relinquish the lead. The Nittany Lions managed to tie the game once in the second half, but IU never let its lead dip below three after that point.
After the nail-biting 81-78 overtime win against Minnesota last Sunday, freshman guard Jordan Hulls said the team is better able to deal with tight games.
“We’re getting used to that,” Hulls said. “That’s definitely something we’re working on and feel more comfortable with when it gets close.”
IU’s offense was consistent throughout both halves; it scored 35 points in the first and 32 in the second. Senior guard Devan Dumes led the team with 15 points and three steals, while freshman forward Christian Watford had 11 points and nine rebounds.
Sophomore guard Verdell Jones closed out the trio in double digits with 14 points and four assists. Freshman forward Derek Elston, while not in double digits, was the most efficient by scoring eight points in seven minutes along with a team-high three blocks.
The Hoosiers demolished Penn State at the 3-point line, shooting 45 percent on 9-of-20 shooting, compared to the Nittany Lions’ 18.2 percent on 4-of-22.
While the win was important, it was not perfect. IU was outscored in the paint 34-18. It had nine offensive rebounds to Penn State’s 18 and 21 fouls compared to 13.
Sophomore forward Tom Pritchard, who fouled out on Sunday, got in foul trouble early again and had four total. Junior guard Jeremiah Rivers, who averaged 2.8 fouls before Thursday’s game, fouled out with six minutes left in the second half.
But the team wasn’t worried.
“There was no panic in our guys’ voices,” Crean said. “There was no ‘deer in the headlights’ look.”
After losing one of their starters, IU allowed a 7-2 run and was only up by three with 4:15 remaining. But the Hoosiers turned to a tried-and-true hero. After leading the team in overtime on Sunday, Jones responded with a 3-pointer and jumper to give IU a six-point lead.
“The whole message was ‘We’ve got to be closers,’” said Rivers, who talked to the team in the huddle after he fouled out.
Its second consecutive victory and third Big Ten win came at a good time. With only a third of its conference season over, IU still hasn’t competed against some of the toughest of the Big Ten – No. 6 Michigan State, No. 13 Purdue and No. 18 Wisconsin.
“What it does, if we treat it right: It’s a spring board to getting better,” Crean said.
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