Jordan Hulls made four three-point shots as Indiana toppled Minnesota, 88-81, Saturday.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) -- Jordan Hulls sat at the post-game podium, and the frown rarely fled his face. To his left was Victor Oladipo, head down, rubbing his brow. The third Indiana amigo was Cody Zeller. He drained one bottle of water and then joylessly reached over and took Oladipo's bottle, too.
If you asked a body-language expert to study the video that followed Indiana's game with Minnesota in Assembly Hall Saturday, you can be certain they would conclude that something awful just happened to Tom Crean's fifth-ranked team.
Disregard the snapshots. Consider them a false negative.
Indiana won, 88-81.
They hung an easy 88 on the nation's eighth-ranked team, a gritty Tubby Smith-coached team that typically allows less than 60 points per game. Smith said there were moments when the Gophers had their "heads handed" to them by the Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers shot nearly 66 percent in the first half. They outrebounded Minnesota, even though the Gophers are the second-best rebounding team in the Big Ten. They made 26 free throws. In stretches, they looked as if they were primed to beat anybody.
They never trailed.
But after the game, they looked as if they'd eaten too much pizza – because this is an Indiana team, now 15-1, that expects to win a Big Ten championship and has players that understand you can't win a conference championship if you dribble and hack away all but three points of a 23-point halftime lead.
"The difference is that a year ago we would have been ecstatic with that victory," Crean said. "We want them to enjoy it. But we have different expectation levels. It's not the outside expectation, it's the expectations level inside (the locker room) of where we need to be. We have a lot of room for improvement."
Twenty minutes worth of second-half improvement, to be certain. At halftime, IU led 52-29. Until Saturday, no team had scored more than 43 on Minnesota in a half this season.
With 19 seconds to play, Indiana led, 84-81. Hulls, an 81 percent free throw shooter, missed two free throws. If Minnesota team grabs that rebound off the floor, the Gophers are in position to tie this game.
Somehow Zeller tipped the ball so Hulls could collect the rebound and return to the foul line. This time he finally iced the game, saving the Hoosiers from deeper, permanent frowns.
"I feel good, but at the same time, I know there's a lot of stuff we need to work on," Oladipo said. "There are big games down the road. We have to watch this tape and see what happened in the second half, what we did wrong and correct it. There's really good teams that are coming up and we need to be ready for them."
Two years ago, Indiana isn't in this game. One year ago, Indiana loses this game. This year, Indiana isn't satisfied with this game, even though Minnesota is legitimately ranked the eighth-best team in the nation and had won 11 straight, defeating three ranked teams.
This is what Indiana did well: Yogi Ferrell, a freshman, continued his progression into a point guard who can direct a team and score. Ferrell took good shots, sliced into the lane and played 37 minutes, more time than any Hoosier. He had 13 points, his second-best total his season – and still contributed eight assists.
"He's just such a tough guy to guard," Tubby Smith said. "His penetration and kick like that, when you've got a guy like Jordan Hulls who can really stroke it, so that really gives him a lane."
Oladipo continued to play offense as efficiently as any player in the country. He made 8 of 10 shots – and also knocked loose three steals.
Zeller was Zeller. His stat line was a reliable 18 points and six boards, enhanced by three blocks and a pair of steals. Ditto for senior Christian Watford, who made a pair of threes and grabbed nine boards with his 15 points.
Smith knows now to take opposing players out of games. Smith was determined not to give Hulls, Indiana's senior guard, any shots from the three-point line.
And Hulls didn't get shots 20 feet, 9 inches from the basket. So Hulls drifted back to 23, 25, 28 feet from the rim – and made four of five three-pointers as Indiana built that massive halftime edge.
Here is what inspired the second-half frowns: The Hoosiers fouled Minnesota players three times at the three-point line. They had one assist. They made one (of eight) three-pointer. They missed 13 of 36 free throws. They got nothing from their bench, something that was actually an all-day problem (three points, four rebounds from four guys in 40 combined minutes).
"The second half, we can't accept that," Hulls said. "We know we have to play a lot better."
The chance to play better comes quickly for the Hoosiers – Tuesday night when Wisconsin visits. The Badgers and Nebraska are the two Big Ten teams that Indiana has not defeated in Crean's four-plus seasons.
Said Crean, "There is no question with the long season that it is, we have got to get a lot better."