I try not to make any bold proclamations about Indiana men’s basketball. Things can change rapidly and drastically, so the shelf life for any take is pitifully short.
Besides, mine are usually wrong anyway.
Nevertheless, after Indiana’s 86-70 victory over Ohio State, I can confidently say the Hoosiers have figured out something big. The question is what, exactly.
Maybe the answer is how to win five straight Big Ten games, which the Hoosiers accomplished for the first time since 2016. After gutting out a tough road win against Minnesota on Wednesday night, Indiana returned home to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, where the Hoosiers are 11-1 this season in front of an impassioned crowd.
Prior to tip-off, fans paid loving homage to the state of Ohio with rousing chants of what I’m pretty sure was, “Good luck, Ohio,” although I admittedly never heard the word “good” and they might not have been saying “luck,” either.
I realize inventing reasons to despise a visiting team is sort of Assembly Hall’s thing, but the Ohio vitriol was unparalleled. You’d think there was a bloody border war between the two states back in the 1800s, when in reality the biggest disagreement between them is probably over which has the stronger Amish bakery presence.
That animosity bubbled up all night and hit a crescendo when the Hoosiers exploded on a 15-0 run to end the first half. The buzzer was a mercy to the Buckeyes, who at that point looked like they couldn’t have stopped an especially ambitious equipment manager from dunking, let alone a 6-foot-9 All-American.
In an unexpected twist, halftime lasted an extra five minutes because a piece of metal fell from the giant video board above midcourt. Right when you thought Assembly Hall couldn’t be a more hostile environment, enter sudden airborne head trauma.
While the Buckeyes looked somewhat invigorated after the prolonged hiatus, they never cut the Hoosiers’ lead to less than 11 points.
Star senior forward Trayce Jackson-Davis predictably led Indiana in scoring in the second half, but it was freshman guard Jalen Hood-Schifino that defined the first period. The young standout finished with 24 points, 20 of which came in the first half.
Indiana fans should savor whenever Hood-Schifino is on the floor, because he might not be in Bloomington much longer. He isn’t without flaws, but sometimes it looks like he’s playing a completely different game than his opponents.
His rare combination of shooting and playmaking ability at 6-foot-6 will make him very enticing to NBA scouts. Saturday night was one of his most compelling auditions of the season.
I know, I know — what a travesty that he won’t be graduating from IU, but what can you do? The young whippersnappers these days simply don’t appreciate the value of a college degree, which is definitely just as, if not more, lucrative than an NBA contract. At least, I assume IU President Pamela Whitten is slipping a few thousand Benjamins in my diploma jacket come May.
Losing Hood-Schifino will be tough if it happens, but Indiana might have finally figured out how to get consistent production out of players not named Trayce Jackson-Davis. Eight Hoosiers scored at least 5 points, and most of them had crucial defensive stops as well.
Maybe Indiana hasn’t figured out how to win the Big Ten or go on a deep NCAA Tournament run. A lot can change in the next two months. But in the last two weeks the Hoosiers have successfully mounted comebacks, sustained leads and looked like one of the best teams in their conference.
They’ve certainly figured out how to win games in a variety of ways, most of them very entertaining. It doesn’t really matter how Indiana gets to the final score so long as it’s the team with the bigger number.
For now, fans don’t need to look too far ahead. Just look up at that scoreboard.
Drink it in. Savor it. Is that confetti falling from the rafters? Is it manna from heaven? Is it — wait, no, that’s metal.
The metal is falling again. Save yourself, before it’s too late.
Follow reporters Evan Gerike (@EvanGerike) and Emma Pawlitz (@emmapawlitz) and columnist Bradley Hohulin (@BradleyHohulin) for updates throughout the Indiana men’s basketball season.