When head coach Tom Crean sat down at the podium he muttered three words.
That was unique.
He was right. That was one of most unusual games I’ve ever witnessed in person. Triple overtime games don’t happen all that often. In fact, the last time it happened to Indiana was in 1987. I wasn’t even alive then.
However, what made this game “unique” was not just the fact that it went to three overtimes. There were a few plays that really made this game distinctive.
It all started with this Zach McRoberts dunk.
— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) February 2, 2017
Watching that live, I couldn’t help but laugh out of pure shock. I never thought a “McDunk” was possible. 😉
Another moment I would classify as “unique” would be De’Ron Davis’ two free throws at the end of regulation. The freshman came through in the clutch when he drained both of his attempts to tie the game with three seconds remaining.
What you may have missed on the broadcast, however, was the lone Penn State fan behind the bench yelling at the apex of the shot in the silent Simon Skojdt Assembly Hall.
“He had to withstand that guy that was standing up in the deck,” Crean said. “The Penn State guy that was screaming every time we took a free throw. Made himself so well known, I was hoping I could wave to him after the game, but I didn’t look up.”
Then, of course, there was Josh Newkirk’s reverse layup which beat the buzzer (by literally millimeters and nanoseconds) and forced a second overtime.
So yeah, Crean was absolutely correct when he called this game “unique.”
But, the question arises …
What does this mean?
To some, not a whole lot, which is a valid stance since Penn State is not that good of a team, and Indiana did blow a nine-point halftime lead.
But I tend to disagree.
What I saw on Wednesday night was a team that overcame adversity. A team that was without two of its top players, that never gave in, and was able to win the battle of wills.
In the process, the Hoosiers had to discover new ways to make baskets. Indiana’s 18 points from beyond the arc accounted for just 16.4 percent of its total points scored, which was roughly half of the Hoosiers’ season average (33.6 percent).
Being able to find new ways to score points is a good sign for a team that struggled mightily from the field against Northwestern.
The players discussed afterward how they’ve been working on their shots. For Newkirk, he had to work on his lift. He needed to get more arc on the ball. After some refining, he found himself with a new career-high 27 points.
For junior Robert Johnson, he’s been working on finding new ways to finish in the paint, which was on display as he drained a couple of runners throughout the game.
This team has the work ethic. It’s putting in the time to salvage this season. All the Hoosiers are missing is a leader, and it appears that Thomas Bryant is taking steps towards becoming that guy.
He works very hard every day, but right now he’s just — he’s even more purposeful than what he’s been. And exactly what you would want. It’s a tough role for a 19-year-old to step into.
He’s a very good player, but to have to step into that leadership role at that age and have that responsibility on his shoulders, not only to play well but to have his teammates play well, that’s a big thing. So I’m very proud of him for that.” – Tom Crean on Thomas Bryant.
This team is not perfect. In fact, they are far from it, but not many teams are perfect. What makes for a good and potentially great team is one that can overcome its deficiencies and find ways to win. Indiana did both of those on Wednesday.
The Hoosiers displayed the grit and tenacity that many doubted they possessed after the losses at Michigan and at Northwestern. If Indiana proved a single thing on Wednesday night, it’s that they aren’t ready to quit on the season.
“I just want to thank God for these guys and Coach Crean. There’s no quit in them,” Johnson said.