Regardless of how unlikely it was, Indiana basketball has a real opportunity to build upon some momentum after winning at Northwestern, 79-76 in double overtime on Wednesday.
It won’t come easy, though, as Indiana’s next game comes this Saturday at No. 4 Ohio State. The noon tip-off in Columbus will pit Indiana against the hottest team in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes are 16-4 and have won five games in a row. Additionally, they are winners of eight of their last nine.
The work they have done in that stretch has been impressive, collecting a number of big wins on the road. The Buckeyes beat Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa all away from home in that time frame.
Saturday’s game will be the only meeting of the year between Indiana and Ohio State and it very well could be a good one. In the six matchups the two teams have played since the 2017-2018 season, three of them have been decided by four points or fewer.
In order for Indiana to steal a game against the Buckeyes, it’s going to take a balanced and disciplined effort. Here’s how:
Guarding the 3-point line
Indiana’s 3-point defense has been concerning on a number of occasions this year. They’ll really need to clean it up against the Buckeyes.
Per usual with the Hoosiers, if their defense can take command of the game by slowing it down, limiting possessions and not getting in a shootout, Indiana will have put itself in a position to win.
Allowing the Buckeyes to catch fire from deep is not the way to do that. As a team, Ohio State shoots 35.2% from the 3-point line. That metric is good, but it’s not lethal.
However, Ohio State has two lethal shooters in Justin Ahrens and Duane Washington Jr.
Washington is the second-leading scorer for the Buckeyes with 14.8 points per game, and he is a 36.4% 3-point shooter. Washington can be very streaky, though, and he is currently on a roll.
In Ohio State’s past two games he has averaged 17 points per game. In that time frame his 3-point shooting has been a bit down, only making 6 of 19 shots.
He can break out at any time, though, as evidenced by his 5-for-7 3-point performance against Minnesota or his 6-for-9 display against Purdue earlier this season.
Ahrens on the other hand is purely known as a 3-point shooter. The vast majority of his looks from the floor are 3-pointers and that is his main role in the offense.
He has shot 47.9% (45-for-94) from beyond the arc throughout the season.
Owning the post
After three years of consistency and excellent play from former Ohio State star and center Kaleb Wesson, the Buckeyes have a new star in the post in sophomore E.J. Liddell.
The 6-foot-7 sophomore has made a massive jump from his freshman to sophomore year. As a freshman, he scored 6.7 points per game off the bench, but this year he is the team’s leading scorer at 14.9 points per game.
Liddell also grabs 6.8 rebounds per game while being a bit of an undersized post player.
Liddell is complemented in the frontcourt by a veteran in senior forward Kyle Young who has been a mainstay in the Buckeye rotation since the Chris Holtmann era began.
Young is 6-foot-8 but plays bigger than his size with his strong build, as well as his scrappy and physical playing style. The senior scores 8.9 points and 5.9 rebounds while also playing strong defense.
The Buckeyes own the rebounding advantage over the Hoosiers, but not by much (37.4 to 35.9).
Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson are going to need to try and overcome that slight deficit, win the rebounding battle and establish some dominance offensively.
Against Northwestern, the Hoosiers were in a funk when it came to scoring in the post and never got in any sort of rhythm.
They’re going to need more of how Thompson played against Iowa and to get Jackson-Davis going earlier offensively than he has in the past few games to win the battle with Liddell and Young.
Limit the self-inflicted errors
Indiana has proven capable of being able to compete with any opponent over the course of the season. There’s no doubt IU can play with an Oho State team ranked in the top five, but if IU wants to win, the team is going to need to minimize the level of error.
The Hoosiers were fortunate to come away from Evanston with a win despite losing the turnover battle and missing plenty of free throws.
Both of those things naturally happen in a basketball game, of course, but if Indiana commits those errors to the same level as it did on Wednesday against the Buckeyes, it is not going to be in good shape to win.
Indiana’s game average for turnovers and the number against Northwestern were not that different, 11.9 compared to 13, respectively, but Northwestern took full advantage of Indiana’s miscues. The Wildcats scored 19 points off turnovers, a fourth of their points, against the Hoosiers.
Indiana can’t dig itself a hole that way again. Ohio State will be a much tougher team to have to make a theoretical comeback against than Northwestern was.
Indiana also can’t afford to dig itself a hole at the free-throw line again.
It’s no secret that Indiana has struggled making the freebies, only shooting 66.4% from the line all season and those points left on the table come back to haunt them.
The number of close losses Indiana has had likely could have been reduced to an extent if Indiana could make some more free throws and stay in the game longer or perhaps be ahead with more makes.
The Hoosiers really found their groove from the line late against Northwestern, making 22-for-26 to finish, but if they would have started better than 5-for-12 initially, the game might never have needed overtime to begin with. Continuing the good momentum from the line at Northwestern is imperative for Indiana.
Free throws are certainly not the end-all, be-all for the Hoosiers as a team, but not capitalizing on free points is never a good thing.