IU had it — it had lots of it. Minnesota didn’t.
And that heart, that hustle, that I-won’t-quit-until-we-win attitude wasn’t exemplified in any player Wednesday more than Tom Pritchard.
In IU’s 60-57 win, the junior forward scored 12 points, a total by any outside observer that doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy. Add seven rebounds and it still doesn’t seem enough to write home about.
Shoot, the Minnesota frontcourt players do that almost every game.
But this game was a different, and there were some plays Wednesday that were out of the ordinary — plays that displayed IU’s motivation to win, despite playing without leading scorer Christian Watford.
Take, for instance, the dunk.
IU led 16-6 nine minutes into the game when junior guard Verdell Jones missed a long 3-pointer. As the shot went up, Pritchard approached the glass from the free-throw line. He took two steps inside the line, leapt towards the goal, grabbed the ball in mid-air and dunked in the face of Minnesota’s 6-foot-11 Ralph Sampson III.
This was an effort from Pritchard who, although he has been playing well defensively of late, hasn’t scored more than eight points in a game this season.
His season’s best performance came at a most-needed time. It came against Minnesota’s intimidating lineup of big men who are partly the reason the Golden Gophers are ranked in the top 20.
And Pritchard’s performance came when IU needed it. Playing without Christian Watford, it was hard to see how this team would succeed in the post. If it didn’t play well down low, it was equally difficult to see this team competing in the game.
But Pritchard led the charg and the rest of the team followed.
“I am really proud of him. He is playing with confidence and playing with belief,” IU coach Tom Crean said.
For Pritchard, it was all about a team win.
“Everybody is on the same page right now,” Pritchard said. “And our defense, when we bear down and lock down, it’s a pretty good defense.”
What’s scary is that this IU team is growing right before our eyes. It’s easy to think that this team could have folded like the last couple seasons.
It’d be hard to blame them if they did.
But that’s not happening at all. This team is competing in the Big Ten. Players like Pritchard, like sophomore guard Jordan Hulls, like senior guard Jeremiah Rivers are maximizing their roles.
And Crean is seeing it.
“I thought the turning point in the game for us was when they made a late run and there was a time out and the accountability in our huddles,” Crean said. “It wasn’t complaining to one another, it was direct hits at one another in a sense that we have to finish this one out.”
Pritchard has his eyes set on the next game: Iowa.
“All I’m thinking about right now is Iowa,” Pritchard said. “They punked us and beat us twice last year, beat us this year already, everyone knows we’re thinking about the next game.”
This team, for whatever reason, is clicking.
It starts with the heart.
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