The first people on the court wore red jackets with “Indiana” emblazoned on the back along with white shorts.
Members of the IU bench bounded toward midcourt Saturday afternoon inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in the immediate aftermath of IU’s 63-62 upset win over No. 6 Michigan State.
Next came the cheerleaders, all clad in white, followed by a trickling of students from behind the basket that soon swelled in size and number.
If the home win against No. 19 Wisconsin earlier in the week brought relief to those inside Assembly Hall, Saturday’s win was a chance for exaltation.
Players like sophomore forward Justin Smith and junior guard Devonte Green, the only IU players to score double-digit points, took the scoring burden off their teammates. Smith’s 24 points were a new career high, and Green’s 13, 11 of which came in the second half, were his most in nearly two months.
This balanced out an irregular scoring day from freshman guard Romeo Langford and senior forward Juwan Morgan, who combined for 6-of-22 shooting and just 16 points, although Morgan’s 11 rebounds led all players.
“Things are hard on Juwan right now,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “There’s not a lot of room to move and there’s big bodies in and around the basket. But if you watched him this week, the way he rebounded the way he defended, he’s playing winning basketball.”
Freshman guard Rob Phinisee took the opportunity to showcase his defensive abilities. While Michigan State junior guard Cassius Winston had a 20-point, 11-assist performance, it was Phinisee who stayed tight to Winston and denied him an open shot on the game’s final possession.
“I knew he was going to get the ball, and I knew a ball screen was coming,” Phinisee said. “I just had to fight to get over and stay in front of him.”
Despite the statistics compiled by Winston, he was also one of three Michigan State players with three or more turnovers. In particular, the defense from Miller’s team became suffocating in the most important moments, as Michigan State failed to score in the final 4:13 of the contest, while IU went on a 7-0 run to end the game.
“I was proud of the whole team, the way we defended him as a team,” Green said.
When asked about Phinisee’s defense on Winston, who missed two shots, including the potential game-winner, and had a turnover in the final 4:39 of the game, a smile broke out across Green’s usually stern face.
“I wasn't surprised. I mean, he's a great defender,” Green said. “I make him work every day in practice, that's for sure, so I mean, I was happy. Happy for him.”
But in the long term, and of the most importance, this IU victory puts the Hoosiers back on the tips of tongues for bracketologists around the country.
IU’s first regular season sweep of Michigan State since the 2012-13 season, and just the second since the 1990-91 season, puts IU above .500 for the season and significantly bolsters its NCAA Tournament résumé with two regular season games and the Big Ten Conference tournament still to play.
Selection Sunday for college basketball’s premier postseason event is two weeks away, and while Miller began to build the case for IU’s inclusion in the 68-team field, he also reiterated the need for the Hoosiers to finish the season well.
“I think our résumé at the end of the day will speak for itself,” Miller said. “We have to win. We have to win period.”
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