The crowd at Assembly Hall sure got their money’s worth Thursday night, as they saw two excellent basketball teams with No. 6 Indiana and No. 2 NC State square off in a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16. Hoosier fans did not, however, get the result they wanted, as the Wolfpack defeated the Hoosiers 66-58 in front of the biggest crowd this Indiana team has had in a while. Although Indiana lost, head coach Teri Moren said she is confident the team’s best basketball is just ahead of them.
“We will be better,” Moren said. “That’s a good basketball team. They have a chance to go to the Final Four and they’re picked to win the ACC. And we had every chance to win tonight, but unfortunately the ball didn’t go in the basket like we needed it to.”
Those shooting woes hurt Indiana early on in the game, as the team started off 2-for-10 from the floor and 0-for-4 from 3-point range in the first five minutes. Grace Berger and Mackenzie Holmes were the only scorers early on, and it seemed as though the Hoosiers needed to find a spark offensively. NC State’s Elissa Cunane could not be stopped inside, as she went on a 6-0 run by herself in the first few minutes. Getting all the jitters out from having a packed Assembly Hall, it would be interesting to see what adjustments Moren had made.
While the shooting didn’t get any better, IU was much better in making the Wolfpack uncomfortable and turning the ball over. NC State had four turnovers in the final five minutes of the half , and that seemed to get the Hoosiers’ confidence back on the defensive end after Cunane’s strong run. Knowing the struggles the team had shooting, Indiana tried to work it more inside to get higher percentage shots. With NC State having such a strong defense, IU needed a spark offensively to get the crowd at Assembly Hall back on their feet.
Cunane getting two early fouls was huge for the Hoosiers being able to stay in the game. Her absence allowed for a much more undersized Camille Hobby to play some major minutes leading to Holmes figuring out her game offensively. Ali Patberg’s defense was also huge in holding a talented NC State team to some careless turnovers and shots. The Hoosiers hoped to turn their outstanding defense into points on the other end.
Diamond Johnson caused lots of problems for the Hoosiers down the stretch in the second quarter. Her ability to shoot the ball and quickness while driving to the basket helped NC State stay in the game while their other stars struggled to score. Chloe Moore-McNeil sparked the offense for Indiana. Her catch-and-shoot ability caused the Wolfpack defense to spread out more, allowing for Holmes to get some baskets inside. Indiana led the Wolfpack 23-21 in what was shaping up to be the ultimate defensive battle. Moren talked about the threats Johnson and Cunane posed as players.
“Johnson made us pay a couple of times,” Moren said. “Just because she just has so much wiggle in her game, and that obviously hurt us. But I thought we did a great job on Cunane. I was a little bit nervous at the beginning, but as the game we threw double teams at her.”
Holmes took over the first few minutes of the third quarter, as she had six of the first eight points for Indiana. The Hoosiers did a great job of executing against a very solid NC State defense in the halfcourt, and it seemed Holmes was not afraid to go right at a premier shot blocker in Cunane and get to the basket. As NC State hit some big shots to bring the IU lead back down to one, Indiana players knew they needed to continue to be themselves and get quality shots.
NC State really turned it up a notch towards the end of the third. Johnson as well as Raina Perez and Kayla Jones hit some big-time shots to give the Wolfpack a 4-point lead. Indiana was unable to sustain its momentum offensively after Aleksa Gulbe’s first made shot of the night, but the team remained solid defensively, holding a high-octane Wolfpack offense to just 38 points through three quarters.
The fourth quarter was an absolute battle back and forth. Holmes continued to be on a roll, as she pulled out many different post moves in her arsenal in order to get past Cunane. For NC State, Johnson continued to orchestrate the offense. The pick and roll with her caused Indiana to foul when going on top of the screen, allowing NC State to get into the bonus with a couple minutes to play in the fourth.
The final 2:48 was the nail in the coffin for the Hoosiers. The Wolfpack outscored the Hoosiers 9-1 in just a minute to extend the NC State lead to double digits for the first time all night. With missed shots and a couple of late turnovers, IU found themselves in a very deep hole that would be hard to come back from against an excellent Wolfpack team. As NC State knocked down some big free throws, Indiana suffered its second loss of the season, 66-58.
The loss puts Indiana at 6-2 on the season, and the Hoosiers will have a bit of a break from non-conference play next week. Indiana opens up Big Ten play back at Assembly Hall on Monday against the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State is an even 4-4 on the season, coming off a big loss to Boston College Thursday night. Although this one stings, the Hoosiers will need to put this one behind them and focus on the start of conference play. IU showed its appreciation for the large crowd that came to support the Hoosiers on Thursday night.
“It’s great seeing the support that we have,” Holmes said. “It was disappointing that we performed that way in front of that crowd. So I just hope that they keep coming back and that they keep supporting us.”