Eight possessions into IU’s 69-66 win against No. 22 Ohio State, the Hoosiers faced a 9-2 deficit and had turned the ball over five times. Junior forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea had picked up two fouls in 84 seconds and the Hoosiers were forced to play catchup in what would be the team’s first test.
Fast-forward to the end of the game and IU Coach Tom Crean watched as a lead that was 10 points with 3:32 left evaporated to just one point with 32 seconds remaining.
IU’s (12-4, 2-1) cushion would fall to one point once again with eight seconds left and Ohio State (13-4, 2-2) with the ball. Just five days earlier, IU’s crumble in the face of adversity led to Crean calling out his team’s ?leadership.
The Hoosiers were knocked down. They didn’t get up.
Saturday, with their backs against the wall, the Hoosiers thrived. D’Angelo Russell’s last-second attempt to tie fell short and IU held on for the three-point win in the team’s first conference test at home.
“It was a game where we held momentum a little bit longer and fortunately, that helped us,” Crean said. “It was a hard-fought victory.”
Despite a poor start that was eerily similar to IU’s 20-point blowout loss to Michigan State, freshman guard James Blackmon, Jr., said there was no panic on the Hoosier bench. When IU fell behind early, Blackmon said the team reverted back to practice, not the previous loss.
“At practice, really, we tried to get our edge back, our swagger back,” Blackmon said. “We just went so hard in practice and it happened tonight in the game.”
When Ohio State connected on a 3-pointer coming out of the halftime break to cut the lead in half, IU held its ground and wouldn’t let the momentum of the game swing toward the Buckeyes’ favor, which Crean said was crucial.
When miscommunication between junior guard Yogi Ferrell and Blackmon led to a turnover and an Ohio State dunk in transition to bring the Buckeyes within a basket, the Hoosiers got a much-needed defensive stop. When the lead was once again cut to just two points just a few possessions later, Blackmon responded with a running layup across the lane to spark an 8-0 run.
He finished with a game-high 18 points, snapping out of what had been a bit of a scoring slump and providing IU with 16 second-half points.
But the key to the game, sophomore forward Troy Williams said, was on the other end of the court. He said it was the Hoosiers’ defense that made the difference as IU repeatedly created stops each time Ohio State closed in.
IU held Ohio State to just 34.3 percent shooting. The Buckeyes shot just 3-of-21 from beyond the arc, and most importantly, didn’t convert late.
“Our defense is what changed the game,” ?Williams said.
Blackmon said there was never one moment where his team began to think about the previous loss to Michigan State. That loss is now in the rear view mirror.
In East Lansing, Mich., Crean questioned the mental toughness of his team. That toughness was challenged in practice during the week. It was, at least for the moment, proven on the court Saturday at Assembly Hall. Now it’s a matter of moving forward — again.
“Can you play over your own distractions, your own disappointments and still keep going?” Crean said. “That’s when you really know you’re getting mentally tough.”