BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – This is just the way it is when Indiana coach Tom Crean unwinds after his Indiana basketball team wins a game (56-46 over Illinois) that had the folks in Assembly Hall wound tighter than one of Bruce Hornsby's pianos:

Crean shares a post-game pizza with Hornsby, a king-sized basketball fan and multiple Grammy winner, in the coaches' office of the IU locker room.

The players had departed. The recruits had moved to Cook Hall, IU's practice facility. Other locker room visitors, like Southeast Christian senior minister Dave Stone, had started on their journeys home.

Just Hornsby and Crean, talking hoops, music, movies, recruiting, life, the works – on Grammy Award Sunday.

How did it work? Crean tries to learn something from everybody he encounters. Always has. It worked the way it often does when famous people engage:

Crean asked Hornsby what inspired him when he worked on the musical score for the movie "Backdraft." Hornsby asked Crean why he dresses so many players – 17, a number that includes five walk-ons. Hornsby's twin sons were talented basketball players in Virginia. In fact, his son, Keith, is sitting out at Louisiana State. He transferred from UNC-Asheville, where he averaged 15 points last season. Hornsby will be in Baton Rouge Tuesday when LSU plays Kentucky. They talked AAU hoops.

Crean turned the conversation back to music, with a question about how relentlessly Hornsby practices. Hornsby confessed that after he drove to Bloomington from Lexington (where he watched the other twin, Russell, compete in a track meet at Kentucky Saturday) that he walked into an open studio at the IU School of Music and played the piano for an hour.

Back to Crean. He wanted to know what movie Hornsby was working on next. It is the score for something that Spike Lee is directing. Hornsby pulled out his cell phone – an old-fashioned flip model  – and dialed their mutual friend, Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa, to ask the manager why he skipped this game in Assembly Hall.

"What a great venue for a basketball game," Hornsby said. "I loved it. I loved everything about it."

So did Crean, especially after the Hoosiers won on an afternoon when they shot 40.8 percent and got four points from freshman center Noah Vonleh and five from Will Sheehey.

Was this a game the Hoosiers would have won in December with those vital signs?

"Probably for lack of thinking about it deeper, I would say probably, ‘No,' " Crean said. "I think our team is getting better. We're in the hardest league in the country. We really are. And you're forced to get better because everybody else is."

Was it a Must-Win?

Crean does not like using that term, especially not in January. But those are the words that many national analysts are welding to the Hoosiers before every game -- if the Hoosiers hope to make the NCAA Tournament. Expect to hear it again Thursday when Indiana visits improving Nebraska and again on Sunday when Michigan visits. Ask Hornsby. That's just the way it is.

"I never follow that whole Must Win theory or any of those," Crean said. "It's about putting yourself in a position where you take the next step, and that's exactly what these guys did in this game."

IU created some temporary breathing room Sunday. By winning the Hoosiers moved to 3-4 in the Big Ten (13-7 overall) and pulled themselves into a tie for sixth place with Ohio State and Purdue. Remember that about 20 minutes ago the Buckeyes were unbeaten and ranked third in the country. That explains the Big Ten.

A loss would have ignited NIT talk because it would have pushed Indiana down into 10th place, ahead of only Nebraska and Penn State.

A look at Indiana's first 10 possessions tells you why this is such a maddening team. They took six shots. They missed five. They launched a wild alley-oop pass. Yogi Ferrell, easily the team's best ball-handler, was stripped in the lane. Two more turnovers followed. That was only the first four-plus minutes.

But somehow the Hoosiers changed that vibe and controlled an Illinois team they lost to in overtime at Champaign on New Year's Eve. That is life in the Big Ten this season.

Although IU won by 10 points, Crean said this game was similar to all but one game IU has played in the Big Ten – it was decided by one or two possessions.

There are many reasons Indiana won. The first is the Hoosiers played formidable defense. The Illini made only a third of their shots – and just five of 23 from the three-point line. Only one Illinois player scored in double figures. IU allowed one fast break basket and no second-chance points.

After scoring only two points in the first half, Ferrell hung 15 on Illinois in the second half. When Ferrell wants to get to the rim, he gets to the rim. Vonleh did not score but he rebounded like a piranha, grabbing 14.

Stanford Robinson, a freshman, continues to cement his spot in the rotation, playing a season-high 29 minutes and scoring 10 points. He defended his man and only turned the ball over one time. Three weeks ago Austin Etherington was an afterthought. He scored seven points in 21 effective minutes. He played like he belonged.

"When you've got two teams trying to win as bad as they both were today, it's not going to be pretty," Crean said. "It's just not."

"It was pretty at the end," said Hornsby, smiling.

That's just the way it is sometimes at Indiana.

Copyright 2014 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.