Indiana walked into its locker room at halftime with a 30-point lead over Ohio State and reason to be excited.
The Hoosiers were finally playing like the team Assembly Hall has been waiting to see.
IU (14-3, 4-0) stormed out to a 10-0 advantage early and never looked back in a wire-to-wire 85-60 victory over the visiting Buckeyes (11-6, 3-1) Sunday afternoon at Assembly Hall. It was the team’s ninth in a row and fourth in the conference, marking the best start to a Big Ten season since 2008.
“That was definitely the most fun basketball, a half at least, that I’ve played here,” senior guard Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell said.
There weren’t one or two things Indiana did particularly well in the win. It was a culmination of the Hoosiers’ potentially elite offense meeting continued defensive improvement against a youthful Buckeyes team that was knocked down early and couldn’t get up.
“We got off to a slow start, and we didn’t do anything in terms of what we are supposed to do defensively,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said. “We couldn’t catch. We dropped balls. I think we missed 11 shots in the paint in the first half. We just couldn’t fight our way out of it.”
And while Ohio State spun its wheels, Indiana pulled away.
“They are playing with more passion and fire all the time,” head coach Crean said. “They are growing up together, which is important, and the simpler you make the game, the better.”
Though Indiana’s defense deserves its credit, Ohio State wasn’t doing itself any favors.
Right before an alley-oop dunk by freshman forward OG Anunoby put the Hoosiers up by 20 points 15 minutes into the first half, JaQuan Lyle missed a point-blank layup at the rim. Trevor Thompson grabbed the rebound but couldn’t convert on the follow-up try during a stretch of nine consecutive misses by the Buckeyes that spanned 9:07.
The rest of the first half, which Indiana led 48-18, wasn’t much better for the visiting team. The Hoosiers outscored the Buckeyes 28-6 over the final 11:48 of the opening 20 minutes after building its initial lead with a 10-0 run to start the game.
“They did an excellent job of when Ohio State would put a couple together in a row, they bounced back from that pretty quick,” Crean said, “and either got a stop in the basket or came down and we had a couple good runs ourselves.”
Indiana’s individual performances reflected the final score.
Thomas Bryant had the first double-double of his collegiate career. The freshman center finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds. Junior forward Troy Williams snapped out of what senior guard Nick Zeisloft described as a “funk” one day after Zeisloft predicted he would. Williams finished with 23 points and six rebounds.
“Obviously some outstanding personal numbers, but most important, it was a team mindset knowing that we were playing an excellent team,” Crean said. “And our guys rose to the challenge and I’m very proud of them.”
Inside Indiana’s locker room, there’s a message from Bob Knight that says, “Victory favors the team that makes the fewest mistakes.” It’s one of the few signs Crean said he keeps up within the main locker area.
Crean likes the message enough to hang it on the wall, but he also likes to add to it.
“It also favors the team that plays through them the best and learns from them the quickest,” he said.
And when teams learn, the results aren’t far behind.
“We know what we’re capable of,” Ferrell said. “We know how we can play defensively and getting rebounds. When we do that, when we have that mindset, we can go out there and be great.”