Eight days after losing to Fort Wayne in a stunning overtime upset, Indiana had a chance to hit the reset button. The Hoosiers lost on the road to the Mastadons 71-68. They then quietly defeated Mississippi Valley State 85-52 at home.
The Hoosiers dropped from number three in the country to 13 with questions looming about their true capabilities. On Wednesday night they had their chance with a huge test against the newly third ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. On top of the fact that Indiana was coming off the loss, there was the storyline of the ACC taking control in this weeks ACC-Big Ten inter-conference challenge.
However, an electric atmosphere rejuvenated Tom Crean’s team. Isiah Thomas’ presence in celebration of the 1981 National Championship team amplified the atmosphere even further. Every big play for Indiana was met with a ruckus applause.
The Hoosiers had a fast start in the first half. Junior guard Robert Johnson was key in helping the team jump out to a 14-7 lead. He assisted on the first basket of the game and had with seven early points of the team’s 14. Johnson finished with 11 points, ten of which came in the first half and were key to Indiana’s momentum.
The seven point deficit would be as close as it got in the first half. North Carolina was completely out of sorts as the Hoosiers took a huge lead at the start. The Tar Heels were out of control, made poor shot choices and ultimately allowed the surroundings of Assembly Hall overcome them.
The crowd was a definite advantage for the Hoosiers and several plays made by James Blackmon Jr. and OG Anunoby brought them to their feet. Anunoby was a big part of Indiana’s 41-29 halftime lead. This included a highlight dunk following a North Carolina turnover before crossing half court. Anunoby finished the game with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocks.
The second half opened with much of the same story. Thomas Bryant had a fantastic game with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. This included several stealthy moves near the basket, showing his agility as well as versatility with a three-point jumper that gave the Hoosiers a 50-38 lead at the 14:03 mark.
To this point the game was all Indiana but North Carolina began to climb back. Justin Jackson quietly had 21 points and 8 rebounds. A three-point shot by Jackson brought the game within five points at 65-60 with 3:28 to go. However as was the story of most of the second half, every time the Tar Heels began to come back, Indiana found a way to widen the gap. OG Anunoby took a pass from below the basket, maneuvered to the opposite side of the hoop via the baseline and slammed it home. At that point with the score 71-60 and with 1:35 to go the game was all but over. The Tar Heels attempted to foul to extend the game but were unsuccessful in their efforts.
What this means: Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana jumps back into the top 10 with this win next week, provided they take care of business Friday against SIU Edwardsville and Sunday against Southeast Missouri State. Even considering the debacle that was their contest against Fort Wayne these games should give them no difficulty. Tom Crean’s team showed us yesterday what they are truly capable of even though there is the advantage of the game being on their home court in Bloomington.
The Hoosiers moved the ball well, easily penetrating the Tar Heel defense at times. They also shot the ball well at 48.1% from the field. The Hoosiers responded well each time that North Carolina seemed to climb back in to the game. James Blackmon’s three with 3:44 to go is a perfect example. The Tar Heels had taken control for a few moments but Indiana settled down and Blackmon’s shot started a run.
The Hoosiers had five players in double figures showing that they are not reliant on just one player for their scoring. There is only one key thing to watch and that is OG Anunoby’s ankle. He landed awkwardly after a dunk that extended the Hoosier lead to 11 and juiced up the crowd. On the sideline he had an ice pack on his ankle. This should be a simple ankle roll. A bad injury would be a huge blow to this team right after making a statement about what they are capable of.
What this means: North Carolina Tar Heels
Roy William’s team was unable to control the tempo at times throughout this game. The only players that seemed unflappable were upperclassman Justin Jackson and Kennedy Meeks. Meeks had a solid game with 10 points and eight rebounds. Yet, even Meeks had his issues this game. He got into early foul trouble and played 25 minutes, the lowest of all starters. Jackson was four of seven from behind the arc. Jackson is the player on this team that has the capability to take over a game if need be. Everything from his stature to his expressions show that he is the guy, but he was unable to pull his team all the way back.
None of the Tar Heel reserves were able to have a large impact on the game. Luke Maye did return to the floor after missing several games with an ankle injury. He was largely ineffective for the short eight minutes he played. Theo Pinson is still recovering from a stress fracture suffered earlier this offseason. He will provide key minutes to the Tar Heels when he returns.
The team played significantly different from the Maui Invitational Champion Tar Heels. They not only failed to score 70 for the first time all year, but also allowed the most points in a game this year at 76. North Carolina did not shoot well as a team and their defense was weak at times. Offense was frenetic and unorganized at times. There were few attempts to move the ball inside to Meeks or freshman Tony Bradley.
This was the first true road test for North Carolina. Their other games were at home or on a neutral court, the latter including the Maui Championship game they won 71-56 over Wisconsin. The team still has great potential even though they will likely drop out of the top five of the next AP Poll.
An Added Note: Jimmy V Week
As an added note, this game was a part of a series of games in celebration of Jimmy V week. This celebrates former North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano who passed away of cancer. For more information about the Jimmy V Foundation that benefits from the event you can visit their site.