A 76-60 road win against Penn State — a team now 7-12 on the year and just 1-7 in the Big Ten — in itself, really doesn’t mean much for this Indiana team.
However, given their recent struggles, and this game being at Happy Valley, the Hoosiers will be happy to head back to Bloomington with a check in the correct column for the first time since Jan. 9.
The Nittany Lions didn’t make it easy on Indiana, though. They have played their best basketball all season on their home floor. Five of Penn State’s seven wins have come at home. The Lions fought hard in the first half, forcing Indiana to go into the locker room with just a one-point, 39-38 lead.
However, Indiana was able to settle in and pull away in the second half and started the season back on the right trajectory.
This was by no means an end-all to the Hoosier’s woes, though.
Indiana’s most veteran players, Jaelynn Penn, Ali Patberg and Brenna Wise, all played better than they had over the rough stretch Indiana has recently experienced.
Penn played classic Jaelynn Penn basketball. She spread the floor, played solid defense, and shot well from deep. She finished with 11 points and made two threes.
Ali Patberg is Indiana’s best player. She played like it Thursday. While her previous three games weren’t bad by any means, she didn’t dominate play as she had earlier in the season. On Thursday, she commanded the floor and made everyone around her better, and did so to the tune of 18 points, nine assists, and five boards.
Brenna Wise, in particular, felt the sting of the Hoosiers’ midseason lull. After recording a scoreless night in their loss to Maryland, she rebounded in Happy Valley. She added seven points to the Hoosiers’ totals, but she made her presence most well known on the boards, where she pulled down a game-high 10.
At the beginning of the season, head coach Teri Moren set a standard of 15 assists as a team in every game this season. Against Maryland, Indiana recorded just two assists from players not named Patberg. The Hoosiers were much better Thursday and beat Moren’s mark with 18 assists.
Mackenzie Holmes kept rolling right along. After capturing her third Big Ten freshman of the week honors last week, she put her name right back in the mix again with this performance. She scored 18, tied for best on the team with Patberg, while shooting 9-for-11 from the field.
There’s still a lot the Hoosiers need to improve on to get back on the right track and play as well as they did early on in the season.
To start, Indiana hates the right side of the floor, offensively. No, really, they didn’t score a single bucket from the right side of the floor. Every single point they scored came from the lane of the left side of the floor. If a team can scout that trend and force Indiana to score from the right side of the floor, it might be a barren offensive night for them.
IU’s defense also looked like it struggled, allowing 38 points in the first half to the fifth-worst offensive team in the Big Ten.
Leading the charge for the Lions was Kamaria McDaniel. She dropped in 24 points and got just about anything she wanted in the first half. Indiana was better on her in the second half, but they will have to be able to contain elite scorers better against Big Ten teams with more threats around them that they can dish the ball to when Indiana starts to shut them down.
Turnovers again plagued Indiana. A lot of their passing was careless, and they turned the ball over 17 times, allowing Penn State to score 15 points off of them. Penn State is the worst team in the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio, and second-worst in turnover margin. Against competition that poor, Indiana has to be better to compete with strong teams.
In the end, this win puts IU back on the right track after a disheartening three-game losing streak. Moving forward, the next four games for the Hoosiers may be the most decisive in the story of their season.
Next, they’ll return home to Bloomington to play a Minnesota team that is currently on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. Despite being 12-7 on the season, the Gophers are just 2-6 in the Big Ten. Coming into Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers will need to handle them to regain some real confidence against a winning team.
Following that, Indiana takes on Wisconsin, another team bottom-feeding in the conference. Another home game for Indiana to continue to stabilize themselves will be crucial before traveling to take on rival Purdue in West Lafayette.
If Indiana can come out of those three games unscathed, their rematch with Maryland on Feb. 6 back in Assembly Hall will arguably be the most crucial game of the season for Indiana.
The game against Minnesota in Bloomington on Jan. 27 will be aired on the Big Ten Network and can also be heard on WHCC 105.1.