EVANSTON, Ill. – The IU men’s basketball team was given an unexpected layoff this week, and used that time off to prepare for a rematch against a Northwestern team that took home a win in Bloomington earlier this season.
IU Coach Tom Crean said after Tuesday night’s scheduled game against No. 15 Iowa was postponed because of a fallen piece of metal in Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers came out energetically in their 61-56 victory over the Wildcats.
“Their energy was high, their spirit was high, they were ready to play all week long, and fortunately we were able to get the win tonight in a highly-contested game against a team that has obviously proven this year that they are capable of some really good things.”
Crean said his team’s up-and-down performances – victories over then-No. 3 Wisconsin and then-No. 10 Michigan preceded a three-game losing streak – has displayed the difficulty of collecting wins in a deep Big Ten Conference.
“That’s what makes this league so hard, but it’s also what makes every win so gratifying,” Crean said. “It’s what makes every win so incredibly, not just valuable in standings and things, but precious because they’re so hard to come by. Especially when you go on the road.”
IU was paced in scoring by a quartet of Hoosiers – senior forward Will Sheehey, sophomore guard Kevin ‘Yogi’ Ferrell, freshman guard Troy Williams and freshman forward Noah Vonleh – who each scored 12 points.
Vonleh, the Big Ten’s seven-time Freshman of the Week, fell just shy of recording his 11th double-double of the season by adding eight rebounds, but it was Williams who drew praise for his performance.
Crean said he has seen development from the freshman and that it was Williams’ non-statistical contributions that made the biggest difference for the Hoosiers despite his 12-point, zero-turnover performance.
“I think he’s improving all the time,” Crean said. “I think that tonight, the way that he played, his footwork was really good. He played fast, but he didn’t play in a hurry… Didn’t try to take shots that weren’t there.”
Williams said Saturday’s victory will give himself – and the rest of the Hoosiers – confidence moving into their final five regular-season games.
“Not just for me, I feel like it was more of a team thing," he said. "We came off three or four losses. Winning this game gives us confidence for our next three games, especially ranked teams. So I feel like we picked up our confidence now we have to pick it up to another level.”
The Hoosiers will finish their regular-season schedule with five games in the next two weeks, four of which come against ranked opponents.
With that grueling schedule in mind, Crean said he will keep his players focused on making strides as a team rather than looking at results.
“I think it’s really easy this time of year to get so focused on the games,” he said. “You can get so focused on the games that you can lose sight, or lose that time of making sure that you’re really locking in on what your players need to get better at not only as a team, but individually.”