First it was the ranked team losing streak in football. Then, we broke the long losing streak at the Big House (also in football). Now the 11 year losing streak at Assembly Hall is over. As reader doublegoldandblack mentioned during the open thread, This has been a year where we have exorcised some demons both in football and in basketball. This one was well earned too.
I have to give credit to the Hoosiers in this one. They played a fantastic game and their first half was probably the best anyone has played against us all year. If they had not missed the front end of three consecutive one and one's this probably would have been an Indiana win. That is a sign of improvement for their program. They weren't outplayed tonight as has often happened in the last two years. Instead, but they beat themselves.They played well enough to be right there against a top 10 team.
That said, Robbie and E'Twaun were men at the end of the game. I could have done without Robbie's missed free throw though. In the end, it was still a win. We survived the best effort of another team and came out clean. Let's have Tupac carry us into the Jump with some words that are true for both the basketball team and me this morning:
Is y'all ready for me? .. We up out this bitch
Any time y'all wanna see me again
Rewind this track right here, close your eyes
and picture me rollin - Tupac, Picture Me Rollin''
Positives from the Indiana game:
Robbie Hummel - Robbie was a bad, bad man down the stretch last night. From the time we fell behind 69-68 Robbie gave us eight of our last ten points. We survived his one small mistake of missing a free throw, but this is what role players do. I continue to be amazed by Robbie. It doesn't seem like he is doing a whole lot, then the game is over and you see he has put up 21 points, seven rebounds, and he has three big plays over the course of the night. Imagine if he wasn't a role player (Mental note: This is the last time we rub that one in Terry Hutchens' face).
E`Twaun Moore - I don't want him to have the nickname of Smooge anymore. I say we go with "The Assassin". He is fulfilling the role I said he would before the season: The guy that gives us a basket when we absolutely need it. Right before halftime last night he hit a big three. As Delaware Boiler said in the OpenThread after that shot, "Just hit the red button with Moore". E'Twaun has been our most consistent player this year. He has been in double figures in every game except the opener against Cal State Northridge. His last two games have actually been his worst scoring-wise in Big Ten play, but he is providing offense when we need it. He is also dropping dimes and grabbing necessary rebounds at times. He also has a sense of The Moment, as evidenced by his killer floater with 1:19 left.
JaJuan Johnson - JJ woke up and had a monster second half. We worked the ball to him inside and he steadily got to the foul line. He also was much better on the defensive end, disrupting several shot attempts and shutting Tom Pritchard down after Pritchard went nuts in the first half. Nine rebounds and four blocks are almost as big as 21 points from JJ. If he gives us all three it is very hard for us to lose.
Second half defense - Once again, it kind of slacked off as we gave up too many threes late, but this game was truly won in the first 12 minutes of the second half. After giving up 47 points in the first half, probably our worst defensive half of the year, we gave up 14 points in those first 12 minutes. We were challenging every possession and making the Hoosiers work the shot clock for every shot. We also clamped down on their penetration and took Pritchard out of the game. I credit Indiana for their first half play because they created a lot of those opportunities, but once we switched some things at halftime they took too long to adjust.
Lewis Jackson - We saw a little more of vintage LewJack with the four assists in 12 minutes. He didn't score, but he gave our offense better pace as we were much more open to attacking on the break than I have seen. Kelsey Barlow did the same. I think we're seeing a preview of next year when we have Barlow, JJ, LewJack, E'Twaun, and Robbie on the floor. That is a nice lineup!
John Hart and Keaton Grant - These guys gave us bench production last night. It wasn't a lot, just 12 points, but it was enough. All seven of Hart's points were huge, especially with both rebound putbacks. Grant had a big three in the early going that gave us shades of the old Keaton. I know he has a big game in him this year. It will come at a time we most need it.
Chris Kramer - We had perhaps the defining Kramer moment of the season with his block from behind at the end of the game. TelePPunk even called it before the play happened.
Negatives from the Indiana game:
Matching their intensity - Again, I have to credit Indiana for coming out ready to play. I don't think we really played that poorly overall. We shot well. We out rebounded them. We had 13 offensive rebounds. Indiana just played better for long stretches of play. If they hit their free throws late instead of missing the front end of three straight one and ones we probably lose. Each one of those misses was like a turnovers, especially since one came from an 80% free shooter (Bobby Hulls) when they had the lead at the last media timeout. This is a team that is infinitely better than last season, and we will have to improve if we are going to stay on top of this rivalry in the near future.
Kelsey Barlow - Kelsey, I know you're a freshman, but no more choke gestures. Take a lesson from Kramer. He got knocked down repeatedly in the game but retaliated by working harder to get the win.
Not forcing turnovers - A major reason that Indiana played better basketball last night was that we only forced 10 turnovers. This is a team that often turns the ball over too much. I feel like the turnovers we did force were big, but we needed to force more based on their season averages.
Defending the three late - We seriously need to do something about this. Yes, we've now won five in a row, but in four of those games we gave up way too many 3-pointers in the last four minutes. It made those games unnecessarily close. We cannot do that Tuesday night in East Lansing.
This feels like the perfectly scheduled bye because we don't get thrown out of our regular rhythm. We get four days off, which is like a normal stretch during the season, instead of playing three games in five days. Meanwhile, Michigan State has to go play a tough road game possibly without their best player. Even if Kalin Lucas does play Tuesday night, we're in the better situation rest-wise coming in.
Despite the earlier three game losing streak, we are still alive for the Big Ten title. Tuesday night, especially if the Spartans beat Illinois, will decide if we stay alive much longer. A loss means we are two games out at best as we head down the stretch. A win, coupled with an Illinois win, gives us a tie with seven games to play. I guess someone should have told all the analysts that thought the race was over there were still games to play.
It will not be easy, but this team proved last night we can survive a tough battle on the road. Every single game in this conference away from home is rough. We've managed to win thee of those battles now while only dropping two. We can provide a double blow on Tuesday by getting another tough road win and by making Michigan State lose at home as we have already. This team is good enough and we are ready. All we have to do now is go to East Lansing and actually do it.