The IU fans making their way out of Assembly Hall with a two-point lead and 5.1 seconds remaining had more faith than I did.
But they were right, so all the more power to them.
Faith was one thing I did not possess in this IU men’s basketball team during a grit-it-out game against Wisconsin. Faith didn’t quite manifest itself simply from a Notre Dame comeback and some low-level wins.
After the 59-58 win against Wisconsin, though, faith is coming in piece by piece.
With a tied-up ball game and 38 seconds on the clock, senior guard Yogi Ferrell drove from the top of the key with an isolation opportunity. He hardly looked for a teammate, pulled up and sunk a nonsense mid-range fadeaway jumper to give the Hoosiers a two-point lead.
In the next possession, he was fouled and made two free throws. For the possession that followed, he did it again to clinch the victory.
This was not a very good Wisconsin team, and this win itself was not all that impressive. But what was impressive was Ferrell taking the tough shot and knocking it down when the team depended on him, draining the four free throws with 14,098 people watching.
It’s always been known Ferrell can be this guy; he’s always been capable of going off on solo rampages and playing hero ball — but not for this season’s team.
This team really needed that grit and for him to be the senior leader we expected in the fall.
A quick box score glance won’t show that Ferrell started off 3-for-10 and struggled offensively. What did Ferrell do? He played great defense all night and waited for his moments. He finished by making three of his last four shots and converting on all six free throw attempts.
This game was simultaneously the Hoosiers’ worst offensive game and best defensive game of the season. Much like Ferrell’s early struggles, IU was a mess in the first half.
That’s why the Hoosiers showed some signs of improvement by playing great defense throughout and by offensively coming in on time.
“It’s not about how pretty it is,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “It’s about how you persevere to get a win.”
That’s a pretty coach talk statement, but it’s the truth. Add in that IU is now playing without sophomore guard James Blackmon Jr. for the rest of the season, and the win becomes more relevant.
The spacing a shooter like Blackmon Jr. provides is already going away and the offense will have to find it elsewhere. Sophomore guard Robert Johnson needs to play better offensively than he has in the three Big Ten games this season.
But Blackmon Jr.’s absence has meant more time for quality defense from Johnson and freshmen forwards OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan.
The offense can figure itself out without Blackmon Jr. What matters is if it make this tough win into an identity.
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