Last season, Indiana’s calling card was defense. The Hoosiers would apply lots of pressure and force their opponents to commit multiple turnovers just in the matter of minutes.
This season, head coach Teri Moren has been wanting her team to guard harder and show shades of last year’s group. Sunday’s game against Ohio State may be the game they have gotten their confidence on the defensive side of the ball, holding the highest scoring offense in the Big Ten to a season low in points en route to a 86-66 victory over Ohio State. Moren explained that this is how the program has always been defensively.
“We hang our hat on the defensive end,” Moren said. “I’ve got a tremendous staff that does a ton of work with our players and always has them prepared. So I thought we played stingy on that side of the ball as we always do. That’s Indiana women’s basketball right there, locking our heels into the floor, and making the opposing team really work to get anything easy.”
On the offensive side of the ball, another milestone was achieved. Mackenzie Holmes joined the 1,000-point club on Sunday night, becoming the 30th member in program history to do so. Her 30-point performance propelled the Hoosiers to a massive road victory, as she continues a phenomenal junior year. Grace Berger and Nicole Cardaño-Hillary were also key on the offensive end, scoring 23 and 17 respectively.
The Hoosiers jumped out to a quick 10-0 start in the first five minutes, but it was the swarming Hoosier defense that led the charge. Indiana forced the Buckeyes into five turnovers in the first five minutes, which gave them energy on the offensive end. Holmes gave IU their first six points of the game, as it seemed like OSU had no answer for her. Patberg, Cardaño-Hillary, and Berger all chipped in to score as well.
But Ohio State eventually figured things out, cutting the lead all the way down to four. The guard play of the Buckeyes really showed their strengths, as Taylor Miskell began to find her groove. Despite a couple shots going in for both teams, it was a pretty quiet first quarter, as there were 34 combined points between the two teams.
Both teams went back and forth to start out the second quarter. Indiana did a good job of continuing to turn the Buckeyes over on offense and getting out in transition to score the ball. The Buckeyes answered right back, as Hevynne Bristow got some putback buckets to keep Indiana from going on a run. Play on both sides got a little sloppy, so it was obvious that substitutions needed to be made.
This ended up benefitting the Hoosiers in the long run, as they would go up by as much as 14 to end a strong first half. IU eventually got some 3-pointers to fall down, which was huge in building a lead on Ohio State. Cardaño-Hillary, who has been reliable all season from beyond the arc, hit some big 3s to put Indiana by double digits. After a slow first half, Aleksa Gulbe hit some shots as well, as Indiana went up 43-29 in a strong defensive first half.
But the third quarter is really where Indiana dominated this game, as the team went on a big run to extend the lead to at most 21 points. Indiana did much of its damage inside, as the Hoosiers scored more than 50 points in the paint on Sunday night. While Holmes led the charge with that scoring 30 in her career night, she got some help with Berger and Gulbe, as they were able to drive into the paint in transition to extend Indiana’s lead. Holmes said a night like this could not have been done without her teammates
“I’m a post player, so every pass I get is from my guards,” Holmes said. “And I believe I have the best guards in the country on my team. They’re just great teammates, selfless, and at the end of the day I just want to win and that’s what is most important to me.”
While Ohio State cut the lead a bit down the stretch in the third, Indiana followed that up with a little run of its own. The Hoosiers did a good job getting to the line and getting some free points. Cardaño-Hillary was aggressive in getting to the basket, as she had all game, which really helped the Hoosiers’ momentum. OSU got a little more momentum down the stretch, but Indiana still led by 20 heading into the final quarter of play.
OSU star guard Jacy Sheldon really got it going in the beginning of the fourth, as she led a Buckeye charge that cut the lead to 14. However, once again, Indiana responded with its own run and got the lead back to 20. The great interior defense from Holmes and Gulbe made room for Berger and Ali Patberg to make plays in open space and score inside. It was too little, too late for Ohio State once the Buckeyes found their offense, as Indiana walked out of Columbus with a dominant 86-66 victory.
“Winning on the road in this league is incredibly difficult,” Moren said. “So this obviously gives our group some confidence. So the kids will go into finals week feeling good about what we did here, finish out the non-conference [schedule], and then jump right into the conference on the road at Rutgers. So I hope this is a sign for what we can expect from our group that we can still be locked in and have the energy we need in order to win games on the road.”
This significant victory puts IU at 8-2 on the season and an improved 2-0 in Big Ten play. The Hoosiers begin a three-game homestand to wrap up non-conference play starting with a matchup with the Western Michigan Broncos next Sunday. The Broncos are coming in on a hot streak, winning five straight as they continue their four-game road trip. The Hoosiers will need to quickly rebound in order to take on a confident WMU team.