Indiana held on for dear life in the second half of Sunday night’s contest against Minnesota, ultimately squeaking out an 84-79 win. Given its recent struggles in the month of February, IU will take win 18 in any fashion possible, even if it means watching a 27-point second half lead whittled down to just three points with under a minute to play.
This was an Indiana special, teasing its fans with flashes of brilliance only to allow its demons on the road to make an appearance, all in the same half.
However, what can be taken away from Sunday is that Indiana was able to close the door in a game it could not afford to lose. Building a lead is one thing, but protecting it in a hostile environment is another. Minnesota caught fire from 3-point range in the second half but after the first 2:20 of game time, IU never relinquished the lead.
Head coach Mike Woodson kept his postgame comments short and sweet when it came to his assessment of how the game played out.
“They were at home. They weren’t playing well early. We were playing great. They got hot. We were able to withstand it…” Woodson said. “We made the plays down the stretch we needed to make.”
An honest man will tell you Indiana got comfortable in the second half and that’s exactly what Woodson detailed in his postgame thoughts. But in the same breath, it’s important to note that IU got back to what built the large lead when the game became close, all while Woodson was content to let his team play through it.
When the game began to slip away from Indiana, Woodson refused to call timeout to halt the momentum, a decision made by a coach who understands that allowing his players to close out a game on their own builds maturity. Woodson has preached all season about helping his players learn how to win, even if that means having them find their way through what could’ve been an epic collapse.
A player who has shown great leadership while rounding into form is IU point guard Xavier Johnson. Over the past two games Johnson has accumulated 48 points, 14 assists and just four turnovers while shooting 61 percent from the field.
As teams have committed to taking away Trayce Jackson-Davis via double-team, Johnson has commanded IU’s offense. His aggressive, yet calculated, attack is what led to Indiana building its 27-point lead.
Woodson also spoke on his point guard’s improved play as the season has progressed.
“He’s getting the ball where it’s got to go. Guys are benefiting. He was solid. I will need that the rest of the way,” Woodson said.
Now all focus for Indiana shifts to Wednesday night against Rutgers in Bloomington, a huge game with NCAA Tournament implications that could dramatically shift the outlook of both team’s seasons.
The Hoosiers will look to carry their momentum built over the past two games to remain consistent with their current tournament predictions, which have them playing in March. Beating both Rutgers and Purdue will solidify that position but while many do not see that happening, it is about Indiana not ruining its own chances by losing games it should win.
That almost took place Sunday night, but with two games left in the regular season, this saying still plays: a win is a win.