WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. (WDRB) -- Worst. Home. Loss. Ever.
No, really. I'm not just using the popular expression. It's not exaggeration. It's literally true. The Indiana University basketball team strolled into Purdue's Mackey Arena Wednesday night and handed its rival the worst home defeat in its 115-year hoops history, 97-60 before a crowd of 14.845.
Yes, IU coach Tom Crean played starters deep into the game. Yes, he even threw on a press when up by 30. But look, this game more resembled a practice for the Hoosiers, and with top-ranked Michigan coming in Saturday, they might as well practice the press. Given how little trouble Purdue had with the IU press, it might've been warranted.
But there was something else Crean wanted to see here, something that had more to do with beating an in-state rival into submission. He wanted to see his team go for the jugular. And by the time he reset his sideline pedometer to "stun" in the closing seconds rather than have his Hoosiers hang a hundred in Mackey Arena, he saw just that.
"Our guys never took their foot off the gas pedal, so to speak," Crean said, "which is a really, really important for our team to take the next step."
Let's face it. With a 20-point halftime lead, the biggest danger to IU was the transition game -- it would transition to thinking about Saturday night's showdown with Michigan rather than finishing off the Boilermakers the right way.
Instead, the foot-on-the-gas finish sends the Hoosiers into that mammoth meeting the right way.
Beyond that, Crean reached back into some of his lean years in Bloomington, and evoked some memories of when the Hoosiers were on the other end of some similar scores.
"When you see enough of that over a period of time, you either become that or keep you getting that done to you," Crean said. "And our guys have really learned to become that type of team. The growth process for us continues, but I love how they approached this game."
The other approach that bodes well for IU is the development of its road mentality. Wednesday's win at Purdue was IU's fourth Big Ten road win of the season. That's one more than it managed during the entire conference schedule a year ago. Beginning with a win in West Lafayette, the Hoosiers have won five straight league road games.
IU has matured from a team that struggled in these settings to one that seems to revel in them a little bit. Nobody reveled more than Will Sheehey, who was giving back to the Purdue student section as much as he dished out, like some kind of Marshall Henderson Lite.
Sheehey also was dishing on the court, a career-high seven assists.
"Will's a great young man who's got a great edge," Crean said. "And he's not the player that he is without that edge and that energy, and it fuels him. And there's no accident that we're playing better because he's playing so well right now. I said it on Sunday, that we don't win the game without him. . . . He's got an energy and an edge that makes us a better, tougher basketball team."
IU has five players averaging in double figures and had five score double digits Wednesday night. Victor Oladipo played his usual outstanding all-around game, finishing with 17 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists. Cody Zeller led the Hoosiers with 19 points, Christian Watford added 17, Yogi Ferrell 11 and Jordan Hulls 10.
Purdue big man A.J. Hammons scored 30 of the Boilermakers' 60 points, but early foul trouble kept him from being a factor when the game was close.
The Hoosiers put so much pressure on opposing defenses, because all five players on the court can do so much offensive damage.
"It takes all five guys to contain them," Purdue senior Donnie Hale said.
With conference play now halfway over, the time is coming for great teams to begin to declare themselves. That doesn't mean they need to peak, but it does mean they need to begin to move forward. You've seen it recently from Florida. And from Michigan. This week you saw it from Indiana.
You saw it on offense, which IU has shown all season. But you also saw it on the boards (18 offensive rebounds for 24 second-chance points) and you saw enough of it on defense (56 deflections). This isn't scientific, but by my calculations, with about a dozen good minutes of defense, IU likely can beat 96 percent of the teams in the country. When the Hoosiers play more than that, like they did Wednesday, they can beat the rest.
"We played with a resolve," Crean said. "We were very authoritative on drives and passes. Our defense was up and active. And we just kept moving the ball. The ball didn't stop moving."
And on this night, heading into one of the games of the year in college basketball Saturday in Assembly Hall, once things were moving in the right direction, Crean wasn't going to do anything to slow them down.
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