Youngstown State’s Mady Aulbach drilled a contested three with 19 seconds left in the second quarter, cutting the Indiana lead down to just 41-38 as the Hoosiers jogged into the locker room for halftime.
“I thought we were sleepwalking there in the first half,” Indiana head coach Teri Moren said. “Frustrated on both sides of the ball.”
For Ali Patberg, the first half wasn’t Indiana basketball, especially not the team that is ranked 12th in the country.
The Hoosiers turned the ball over nine times in the first half and shot a woeful 2-for-11 in the first quarter. Aleksa Gulbe picked up two quick fouls and only played four minutes in the first half.
Playing against a scrappy Youngstown State team, Moren knew she would have to rely on her point guard’s leadership in the second half. Patberg ran out of the locker room looking like a different player, and her aggressiveness helped her to take over the game, leading Indiana to a 93-56 victory.
“As a leader and a veteran of this group that’s what you want,” Moren said of Patberg.
Patberg shot 1-for-5 from the field in the first quarter, but performed like an All-American in the remaining three quarters, shooting 6-for-9 and 3-for-5 from beyond the arc. Patberg finished with 18 points, five assists and four rebounds. For Patberg, the word “aggressive” kept coming up when talking about her second half effort.
“We were aggressive, we shared the ball, we made the right plays, we were decisive in our passes and everything,” Patberg said. “We didn’t hesitate, we played confident and aggressive.”
After Wednesday’s victory over Butler, Moren was a bit critical of her point guard’s play, but knew a big game was in store in the near future. Moren is unsure why Patberg was passive in the first half, but credits Patberg’s work off the court for her ability to bounce back in the second half.
“The great thing about Ali and shooters like that is they have to have a memory that they forget the past,” Moren said. “It was just a matter of time before those start falling. I called it after the Butler game that she would show up in a big way today, and I thought in the second half she was really good.”
A game-defining moment came early in the second half after Patberg picked up her third foul just seconds after her second. Patberg yelled over to the bench, “I’m good,” knowing that she needed to jumpstart her team. Moren kept her in the game after very little debate, and because of this, IU’s offense started rolling.
“That’s a trust you have to have in your team and your kiddos,” Moren said. “We have an awful lot of trust in Ali Patberg that she could maintain being aggressive, but yet playing smart without picking up that other foul.”
Moren thought her team was getting good looks in the first half, but shots just weren’t falling. Missed shots were a main reason the Hoosiers only lead by three points at halftime, but Moren didn’t dwell on that.
“We can’t have the knee jerk reaction after not hitting shots,” Moren said. If you miss shots because they are bad shots, that is one thing… We have watched our kids hit those shots and we wanted to instill confidence.
In an effort to fuel her team, Moren said there was some excitement in the halftime locker room. But while Indiana just had one of its worst halves shooting the ball, the halftime discussion was about playing more aggressive and locking in, defensively.
“We pride ourselves on the defensive end,” Patberg said. “Once we make stops defensively, that sparks our offense and we weren’t doing that in the first half.”
With a renewed sense of pride on the defense of end, the Hoosiers came out and held Youngstown State to just 18 points in the entire second half. With Gulbe in foul trouble for most of the game, Holmes played a key role in defending the paint, blocking two shots and holding opposing center Jen Wendler to just four points and one rebound.
While Indiana shot an unprecedented 22-for-29 from the field in the second half, it was by the strength of its defense that IU won the second half 52-18. This defensive focus allowed Indiana to control the pace of the game and run in transition, which is when Moren thinks her team is at its best. Indiana finished the game with 16 fast break points and 22 assists, two numbers that demonstrate how IU’s offense was clicking in the second half.
Going into the game, Moren said she knew Youngstown State would play like they had nothing to lose. The Penguins were 4-for-4 from beyond the arc in the second quarter, a number which broke Moren’s goal of three-pointers allowed going into the game.
The Hoosiers made it a point of emphasis in the second half to limit 3-point shot attempts, and forced Youngstown State to finish 5-for-21 from 3-point land. Jaelynn Penn credited defensive focus from the whole team as a reason the Hoosiers went on a run in the second half.
“Our aggression level wasn’t matching on the defensive end and we needed that to spark our offense,” Penn said. “So just to pick it up on defense, do our jobs and play like us.”
Bendu Yeaney was a key part of this defensive improvement in the second half, which was no surprise to Moren. Sunday was Yeaney’s first game back in Assembly Hall after playing limited minutes versus Butler on Wednesday.
Moren said basketball IQ, defensive presence and ability to communicate are attributes Yeaney adds to an Indiana team that is off to its best start in program history. With Yeaney back, this team may have just gotten a whole lot better before it takes on No. 10 UCLA in a week.
“We are better for a lot of reasons particularly because Bendu has proven time and time again that she has been historically our best perimeter defender,” Moren said. “She doesn’t have the same kind of pop that we are used to seeing from Bendu, but that will come.”