BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Did you believe?
Indiana did, and it paid off Thursday night with a 67-63 gut-check victory over No. 11 Michigan State at rocking Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Not even a blown 15-point lead against a national title contender could shake the Hoosiers.
“We have a lot of belief in each other and what we’ve been doing,” junior forward Joey Brunk said. “We weren’t going to quit fighting.”
Or, as guard Al Durham put it, “Not give up. Not cave in.”
Indiana, which had swept the Final Four-bound Spartans last season, had often looked vulnerable and inconsistent this season while the visitors had charged into the conference lead with victories in nine of their last 10 games.
Then everything changed.
The Hoosiers are a Big Ten-best 15-4 overall and 5-3 in the conference, one game behind conference leaders Michigan State and Illinois. They are poised, once again, to break into the national rankings, something they failed to achieve previously.
“We found a way to gut it out,” coach Archie Miller said. “We have a good camaraderie, good leadership. We have some poise that in tough spots, we can come back.
“We’re obviously not perfect, but our teams believes that if we do what we need to do, play hard and compete, we can beat anybody.”
On Thursday night, the Hoosiers proved it once again. They have won five straight games against ranked opponents at home.
“We played as hard as we could,” freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “We give it our all every night.”
Passion flared everywhere you looked — inside and out.
Students lined up thousands strong outside Assembly and Cook halls hours before tip-off.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo punched a clip board after a missed second-half layup.
Miller directed from the three-point line, coaches’ box be darned.
Passive leadership had no place here. Not with these stakes.
“This was a big step for us,” Miller said.
Pre-game keys were rebounding, transition defense and, of course for those who have watched the Hoosiers this season, good shooting.
But in crunch time, with the score tied with two minutes left, with IU clinging to a two-point lead with nine seconds remaining, it morphed into this:
IU had it, and that made all the difference.
“In this league,” Miller said, “it’s almost impossible to find a way to pull through. We were able to make enough plays.”
Izzo had a different viewpoint.
“We didn’t play well enough to win on the road.”
Brunk set a tone with his team-leading totals of 14 points and six rebounds. Durham was huge with 11 points, including a pair of clutch three-pointers. Forward Race Thompson played, in Miller’s mind, the best game of his college career with four points, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks in 11 minutes before a hard foul sidelined him for the rest of the game.
“I don’t think it’s anything serious,” Miller said. “Hopefully it’s day to day.”
Rebounding, physicality, fierce tempo, clutch shooting, a student-energized crowd boisterous enough to blow a hole through the Assembly Hall roof. It was all here.
Would the Hoosiers capitalize with a season-best performance?
In the game’s first 11 minutes, IU turned Michigan State (14-5) into, well, Western Illinois. The Spartans had no offense, couldn’t rebound and couldn’t slow the Hoosier attack. The lead swelled to 15.
Specifically, Indiana hit its first three shots, four out of five and six of nine. It forced Michigan State into a shot-clock violation on its first possession, a missed shot on its second, and 1-for-7 shooting with three turnovers and no assists.
Adding to the dominance, IU had a 9-2 rebound edge.
Then Michigan State roared back.
“Michigan State took a big punch early,” Miller said, “and as we knew they would, came right back.”
The Spartans closed to 27-24 with four minutes left, and seemed ready for more.
Enter IU freshman guard Armaan Franklin. He drove for a basket, was fouled and completed the three-point play. Thompson scored in transition.
Finally, a Durham buzzer-beating three-pointer, IU’s only long-range basket of the first 20 minutes, gave it a 37-30 halftime lead.
Nine Hoosiers scored. Eight grabbed at least one rebound.
Miller tightened the second-half rotation, specifically sticking with Durham and Rob Phinisee in the backcourt.
Michigan State opened the second half 5-for-5 on three-pointers after going 3-for-11 in the first half to close to within two at 48-46 as the clock ticked under 13 minutes.
A Malik Hall dunk and a Rocket Watts three-pointer gave the Spartans their first lead, at 51-48, with 11 minutes left.
IU held Michigan State scoreless for the next thee minutes, enough for Franklin to hit another three-pointer and tie the score at 51-51.
A series of ties and lead changes followed.
Then came a Phinisee-to-Durham three-pointer, followed by a Phinisee-to-Brunk layup. Indiana led 65-62 with 43 seconds left.
A Hoosier turnover gave Michigan State a final chance trailing 65-63 with 9.5 seconds remaining.
The Spartans got the ball to point guard Cassius Winston, perhaps the Big Ten’s best player. The 6-9 Jackson-Davis guarded him on the switch, with one big job:
Don’t let Winston shoot a three.
“I kind of baited him downhill, and he took it,” Jackson-Davis said.
Winston put up a two-point shot. Jackson-Davis deflected it. The Spartans missed a put-back. IU swingman Jerome Hunter rebounded, was fouled, and hit the pair of clinching free throws.
The Hoosiers had survived for another challenge — Sunday at home against No. 17 Maryland (15-4), which beat the Hoosiers 75-59 three weeks ago.
“We’ll need the same effort Sunday,” Miller said. “Maryland’s a great team. We’ll need different guys to step up.”
Courtesy of Indiana University Sports Information.