It isn’t over yet.
With 10 minutes and 21 seconds left in Saturday’s matinee against Michigan State, it wasn’t over. Indiana was down seven with its back against the wall of empty mediocrity, and it wasn’t over.
With 12 Big Ten losses over a stretch of 13 games, Indiana’s season wasn’t over. Indiana was left at the bottom of the Big Ten with four games remaining and still its season wasn’t over.
“There’s no lay-down in them,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said.
After back-to-back wins against ranked conference opponents for the first time since 2016, Indiana’s season is far from over.
It’s a sentiment that would have been comical just a week prior, but with thanks to an undoubted sense of urgency created by a fleeting season, it’s now the sentiment at the forefront.
It’s sense of urgency that almost came too late into the season.
It was a sense of urgency that almost came too late into this game.
Just like Indiana’s Big Ten season, Saturday against the Spartans was a slow start.
As is everything with Indiana basketball, the only light during the first half came from the most unexpected individual.
Indiana forward Justin Smith kept the Hoosiers alive with 16 points and three made field goals from behind the arc. After only hitting four shots from deep all season before Saturday, Smith’s early outburst was almost unfathomable.
“I mean, I was due to hit some shots, hadn’t hit a couple in a while, and then once I got a couple going, my teammates kept giving me confidence, told me keep shooting it,” Smith said. “And that’s what I did, and I was able to make a couple.”
Smith was the only Hoosier with over three points in the first half. The rest of the roster was simply going through the motions as Indiana trailed Michigan State 35-to-28 at halftime.
The trend continued with seemingly no end in sight. With 10:21 on the clock, down 51-44, the Hoosiers faced a hill that felt too familiar.
It all seemed over. The season and the game.
Then, Indiana outworked Michigan State in every facet of the game.
By game’s end, Indiana forced 14 turnovers, scored 15 points off turnovers, had 10 second chance points, compiled 10 steals, and grabbed 15 offensive rebounds.
With forward Juwan Morgan and guard Romeo Langford restricted to less than double-digits scoring, another unexpected figure fueled the Hoosiers.
Indiana guard Devonte Green stepped in when called upon, bought-in defensively, forced three steals, pushed the transition, and lofted up heat check after heat check for 13 points.
“I mean, he’s a really good player,” Indiana guard Rob Phinisee said. “He just stepped up, knocked down threes when it mattered and helped us.”
It was defense to offense and then offense to energy. After a 9-0 run followed by a 7-0 run to end the game, Indiana took a 63-62 lead over Michigan State.
“We were much better in the second half, and then as about the 12-minute mark, the 8-minute mark started to come around, you could feel our guys have a different vibe about them just in terms of their energy level, and the last four minutes being able to get some key stops, some big offensive rebounds,” Miller said.
Then it all ended the way Miller wanted it to.
Miller’s freshman point guard, Phinisee, shutting down potential player of the year Cassius Winston in the final moments.
“I mean, I was proud of him,” Green said. “I was proud of the whole team, the way we defended him as a team, and I wasn’t surprised. I mean, he’s a great defender. I make him work every day in practice, that’s for sure, so I mean, I was happy. Happy for him.”
Maybe this season will also end the way Miller always wanted it to.
“You know, I think our resume at the end of the day will speak for itself,” Miller said. “We have two more games. You have to control what you can, and that’s the only thing you’ve got to worry about right now. Then you have the Big Ten Tournament. But we have a unique resume. Our schedule strength is off the charts. We have some big wins against really, really highly regarded teams, and if you take the name off the front, obviously you’re going to look at a stretch in the season that doesn’t look very good, but it’s all about how you finish.”