A catharsis in a game that was so ugly it feels like the the outcome was stolen. It’s hard to describe the feeling. In a lot of ways it’s easy to overreact to the result of this victory.
That being said, as a junior I would readily acknowledge that this is the biggest home victory for the Hoosiers since I’ve been here. The fact that Illinois was ranked pushes it to that next level.
I’ll be the first to admit that this has been IU’s worst stretch of basketball in their history. This is a safe statement, sadly. It has been brutal watching the product on the floor for the majority of the Crean era.
The fact that Maurice Creek was injured recently and that Indiana played without Verdell Jones will be pointed to as a turning point if the Hoosiers can manage to stay afloat in the Big Ten. Indiana still will not make the Big Dance in all probability. Unless this is the beginning of an incredible run, the best this win will be is a signature for Tom Crean as man ready to step into the shadow of Bob Knight.
But IU won with stifling defense, a staple of Knight’s time and a fact which gives credibility to this victory despite the ugly statistics this game produced.
Illinois shot 15-59, or 31.3% from the floor, a stat which can be seen as an indication that the victory was won with luck. Yet being at the game, there were more than a few factors which played into the hands of the Hoosiers.
The crowd was jacked every possession as the clock was winding down in the second half. And although the court-rushing at the end will no doubt be ridiculed in some corners, the celebration that ensued as time expired felt earned, in all honesty.
After rooting for a team which seemed incapable at times of winning the big game, the prospect of beating a ranked opponent at home seemed unrealistic.
The final score was 52-49, and the victory feels that much sweeter because of the fact that IU’s wins have been few and far between under Crean. But the win as a sign of life for the Hoosiers transcends anything. Realistically, the Hoosiers will need to win a few more of these games this season and make a stand in 2012 for Crean to remain as their leader.
The victory really came down to the play of Jordan Hulls, who was able to hit four of five three-pointers to go with the game icing free throws. If Hulls is able to get hot at the end, Indiana will be able to pull out a few more victories in the top-heavy Big 10.
Jordan Hulls embraced his role as a point guard throughout much of the game. Even if he wasn’t making anything happen, Hulls made sure that the Hoosiers held the ball before making a play. By milking much of the clock and slowing the game down, Indiana was able to catch breaks which have escaped them throughout the year as well as in seasons past.
Jeremiah Rivers stepped up in a huge way in the game, shutting down Demetri McCamey. McCamey has been a thorn in Indiana’s side his entire career, and it felt good to finally get the best of the matchup against a premier player in the conference.
Christian Watford did not have his best game but put together a solid 16 points to go with 5 boards. IU was only out rebounded by 6, and came into the game ranked an absurd 239th in the nation. This was probably the most important line in a close win despite the fact that IU lost in this category per usual. Mike Tisdale seemed frustrated at times going 2-10 from the floor and 1-3 from the line as the crowd directed their disdain towards the forward who had tore them up in their most recent matchup.
The Hoosiers fed off the home crowd, and after the game, Tom Crean came through the hallways of historic Assembly Hall. Students crowded around him, many just wanting a high five, and he indulged with a smile on his face. The man who has begun facing questions about the legitimacy of his reign knew without a doubt that this victory was crucial for faith in his program.
It will be interesting to see where the Hoosiers go from here. The schedule doesn’t get any easier. The Cream and Crimson play at Michigan State next, which is always a tough venue, despite the Spartans recent struggles.
That game will be followed by a home contest against ranked Minnesota, a contest that looks more like a reachable challenge and less like a risk of further embarrassment.
This team can now breathe a sigh of relief at least for the moment and acknowledge that their will be ups and downs for the remainder of the season. Yet they can take solace in the fact that they still call Assembly Hall home and that their fans are just waiting for something to celebrate.