BOZICH | Indiana looks 'dangerous' to Vitale after taking down Iowa
Dick Vitale had not seen Indiana in person since the Hoosiers' signature defeat at Duke. Vitale saw a different team as the Hoosiers took down fourth-ranked Iowa Thursday night.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) – First, I heard the voice. Then, I felt the hand on my right shoulder. Finally, I was being addressed by the legend – Dick Vitale – himself.
The last time I saw Vitale was Dec. 2. That was the day Duke – and America – buried this Indiana University basketball team by 20 points.
"We were kind of left for dead, right?" IU coach Tom Crean said.
Now Vitale was back with ESPN for another look at the suddenly lively corpse.
After losing to the Blue Devils, 94-74, the Hoosiers won 14 of 16 games without winning over many of their skeptics. They entered and quickly exited the Top 25. I asked Vitale what he thought about Crean’s team.
“They need to win this game because they need a marquee victory,” Vitale said.
Beating Notre Dame on a neutral court doesn’t count?
“They need a marquee victory,” he said.
Illuminate the lights on the marquee.
Indiana toppled fourth-ranked Iowa, 85-78, Thursday night in Assembly Hall. The place was as loud (121 decibels, Crean said) and as frantic as it has been all season. A sellout crowd that included Cody Zeller as well Tom and Dick Van Arsdale, the twins from Indianapolis who starred at Indiana 50 years ago. They saw IU win without getting a spectacular performance by anybody but with solid contributions by 10 guys.
Consider Vitale impressed.
“That’s definitely a marquee victory,” Vitale said. “That’s a talented team. They share the ball. They pass it. They’ve got a lot of gifted players offensively. They can really score.”
Vitale rarely buries anybody. But he was pointed with his comments about the defense that Indiana played against the Blue Devils that December night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. And he should have been pointed. Duke averaged more than 1.5 points per possession.
“It’s time to forget about that game,” Vitale said. “Ancient history. It’s very obvious they’ve taken to coaching and they’re more engaged on defense. They’re talking, they’re communicating. They’re connected. That’s a very dangerous team.”
“It (the win) can propel us toward our ultimate goal, which is a Big Ten championship, said Yogi Ferrell, the Hoosiers’ senior guard.
This was an entertaining 40 minutes. Consider it a team victory for Crean’s (20-5) team, which is now parked in three-way tie with Maryland and the Hawkeyes at the top of the Big Ten with 10-2 records.
Five Hoosiers scored in double figures but nobody scored more than Ferrell’s 14. Thomas Bryant, Indiana’s primary inside threat, was limited to 14 minutes by foul problems. The Indiana bench outscored the Iowa bench, 28-0. There was a time when not getting a spectacular game by Ferrell would have been a formula for defeat by this team.
“Everybody’s a key part of the team and everybody who came into the game impacted it in a positive way,” Ferrell said.
Indiana played the first half as if the Hoosiers intended to handle the Hawkeyes the way they handled Ohio State, Illinois and Northwestern in this building last month. They built a 16-point lead by sharing the ball across the perimeter.
The teams combined to make a dozen three-point shots in the first half. Both teams also made at least half of their field-goal attempts in the first 20 minutes. Offense ruled.
Nick Zeisloft showed why he remains Indiana’s X-factor. (Or would it be Z-factor?) Zeisloft showed that he can score from deep and deeper, scoring nine points, all from distance.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery shook his head when Zeisloft made his first shot from distance. He frowned after Zeisloft made his second. He howled at the moon when Zeisloft made his third, especially after Collin Hartman followed that shot with another three that pushed the Hoosiers to a 36-20 lead with 6:03 left in the half.
McCaffery demanded a timeout and burned the entire segment by raging at his team, especially guard Peter Jok.
Mission accomplished. Iowa scored the next eight points, ensuring there would be no blowout. In fact, Indiana needed a silly intentional foul by Jok with 0.2 left in the half for Ferrell to make a pair of free throws that pushed the Hoosiers to a 45-38 halftime lead.
But Iowa and the Hawkeyes’ senior forward Jarrod Uthoff (who had 24 points) showed why they were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated last week. During one stretch the Hawkeyes scored on 13 consecutive possessions. They moved ahead, 52-50, barely five minutes into the second half and later led 60-56 with less than 10 minutes to play. The decibel level dropped to 21. It was time for the Hoosiers to disappear the way they disappeared against Duke.
“We had to stay consistent and we had to stay persistent,” Hartman said.
That’s what Indiana did. Harrison Niego, a freshman walk-on who turned down chances to play in the Ivy League, made a 12-foot jumper from the baseline. Harrison Niego, a guy who is getting minutes because James Blackmon Jr. is on the bench with a surgically repaired knee. Max Bielfeldt, the 5th-year transfer from Michigan, converted a layup to tie the game at 60.
This victory was not delivered by Yogi Ferrell deciding that he was going to score on every possession, the way Ferrell tried to do it two years ago and at times last season. Starting with Niego’s jump shot, six different players scored Indiana’s final 29 points -- Niego, Bielfeldt, Ferrell, Troy Williams, freshman Juwan Morgan and Hartman.
The balance was legitimate. Crean used 10 players – and 10 players scored, including four freshmen.
“We earned this one,” Crean said. “We’re proud of our guys. And it only gets easier.”
That was intended to be a joke for Crean's good friend, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
The beat goes on for Indiana. They visit Michigan State Sunday. The Spartans were the pre-season pick by many to win the Big Ten title, but they have lost five of their 12 conference games.
"When adversity hits, you can crumble or rise to the occasion," Hartman said. "I think we've done a good job."
Dick Vitale agreed.
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