In the closing minutes of IU’s 76-73 win against Penn State on Tuesday, IU was losing the momentum Crean values so much. The Nittany Lions were clicking, and momentum appeared to be theirs.
A 12-point IU lead with seven minutes remaining evaporated. With the shot clock turned off, Penn State had final possession down by just three points and the Big Ten’s leading scorer, D.J. Newbill, on the floor.
Penn State had regained the momentum late at Assembly Hall to steal a win away last year. Sophomore guard Stanford Robinson hadn’t forgotten.
This time, Penn State’s comeback attempt fell short.
A desperation 3-point heave by Brandon Taylor came too late, and the ?Hoosiers held on.
“Penn State, they did this to us last year,” Robinson said. “They found momentum and they grabbed it. This year I think we did a better job of maintaining that ?momentum.”
Robinson was one of four Hoosiers to score in double digits. Freshman guard Robert Johnson led the way with 20 points off 7-of-11 shooting.
IU leaned heavily on those two in the first half as the guards combined to score 20 points.
Their quick start was a boost for a team that Crean said was emotionally shaken after watching junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea injure his knee in practice the day before.
Without Mosquera-Perea, sophomore forward Collin Hartman started at center and IU had to reinvent itself on the fly.
Without Mosquera-Perea, IU was outrebounded by seven. The Hoosiers allowed double-digit leads to evaporate twice and Penn State to shoot 47 percent from ?the field.
Crean said it wasn’t a particularly pretty looking stat sheet for IU, but he added that most Big Ten games won’t be.
He’s perfectly content with grind-it-out victories. Those still go into the wins column just the same.
“It’s not always pretty by any stretch, but there’s not awards for pretty,” Crean said. “There’s awards for winning.”
Arguably, the prettiest stat for IU came in the ugliness of Newbill’s stat line.
The Big Ten’s leading scorer was to held to just two second-half points, shooting 1-of-6 from the field.
He managed just 12 points the entire game, more than nine points below his season average.
Penn State turned to Newbill with the game on the line to take the final shot, but the Hoosiers managed to strip the ball away, leading to the desperation try by Taylor.
“We didn’t get beat by D.J.,” Crean said. “That’s ?crucial.”
IU now has three Big Ten wins that have been decided by two possessions or less. The last two wins were both one-possession games.
Last year, IU went 3-6 in games decided by two possessions or fewer. Crean said that area has been much improved this year, which he said comes down to ?maturity.
“Our guys are learning how to win those games,” Crean said. “Part of it’s growing up, part of it’s understanding what we’re trying to do. Part of it’s the schedule that we play, but those things are helping us figure ?things out.”