by Jeremy Bauman / @JBauman13
“Who’s going to guard the Minnesota big men?” a few friends of mine and I pondered as we walked into Assembly Hall on this ridiculously brisk Thursday evening.
We all knew that Indiana didn’t have the height, athleticism, or depth to run a consistent man-to-man defense for a whole game against the skyscraping front line of Minnesota.
So how, exactly would Coach Tom Crean decide to go about guarding them?
“They were playing a lot of triangle in two, box in one and we got a little antsy, so what happened was that we rushed some shots,” said Golden Gophers head man Tubby Smith. “It was a good strategy.”
Coach Crean conceded to playing the aforementioned gimmick defenses — and why not use them? When a team plays these types of defenses there is often a reason. Coach Crean knows this truth better than anybody.
“We had to mix our defenses,” he said. “There was no way we were going to be able to play this team straight man-to-man. This wasn’t a team that we matched up with well in man defense and we probably don’t match up well with the rest of the remaining teams on our schedules so we have to mix the defenses up.”
So Coach Tubby Smith and his No. 20-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers came into Bloomington, IN and bombed away from the perimeter for more than three quarters of the game before deciding to finally wake up and smell the coffee. Against an IU team that doesn’t have a ton of girth inside, Minnesota did everything in its power to give the Hoosier post players as much confidence as possible.
Of course, some of the troubles that the Gophers were having were the result of senior shooter Blake Hoffarber running the point guard position with their normal starter, Al Nolen, out nursing an injured foot.
“Blake is adjusting to the quickness of opposing guards and I think they’re being tougher and more physical with him,” Coach Smith would later say.
But most of it had to do with the reluctant Minnesota big men and the lack of aggression on the wings.
Rodney Williams was content settling for the outside shot. Power forward Ralph Sampson III repeatedly settled for the deep ball, which included, but certainly was not limited to his 0-2 display from deep. Even Colton Iverson took a few uncontested looks, but it wasn’t to be from the outside.
Minnesota shot a chilly 27 percent in the first half, wasn’t much better from deep (2-7), and had their best luck at the line, going a meager 5-10.
On the other hand, Indiana pounced on the vulnerable Gophers early and often. Seven players had tallies in the scoring column at the 7:32 mark in the first half and Indiana took a 24-10 lead. Behind resurgent junior power forward Tom Pritchard’s perfect half — he shot 4-4 from the field for 8 points and had this ridiculous dunk, which was No. 1 on SportsCenter’s daily Top 10, Indiana went on to shoot 14-32 (43 percent) from the field in the first half and were up 12 at the break, 33-21.
Indiana continued to shoot well to start the second half, pushing their lead as far as 50-34 as the crowd continued to roar, rivaling its peak volume of the Illinois win last week. Chants of “Sit down Tubby” and “Tom Pritchard” rained down historic Assembly Hall.
Minnesota finally made a late push, going on a 14-5 run from the 7:36 mark until the 3:05 mark, sprinting to the finish line — and by no coincidence at all, it was ignited by a few easy baskets around the rim, some foul shots, and a Blake Hoffarber three-pointer.
Indiana’s 16-point lead was whittled down to 55-54 after Austin Hollins split a pair from the line with 3:05 left, but that was the closest the Golden Gophers would come down the stretch despite their valiant push.
Though Minnesota did have a chance to tie the game with the miracle man Blake Hoffarber, Indiana closed the game on a 5-0 run by Verdell Jones III to take the victory at home 60-57.
The Hoosiers not only battled and tested another top-20 team, they also took one down for the second time in a row, and that is a great sign for the Hoosier faithful.
On the grand scale, hopefully these two victories are the beginning of the upward swing that everybody is waiting for.
At least the Hoosiers are starting to gain the attention, and respect, back from the rest of the Big Ten as a team that is going to come out and give you a fight.