Indiana allowed just 19 first-half points, and 49 overall, in a strong defensive performance during Wednesday's win.
Indiana couldn’t complain about the shots it was getting, but they weren’t going down. So the Hoosiers needed the lift they’d talked about before Wednesday’s game, a lift they created for themselves.
“We weren’t hitting all our shots,” junior guard Victor Oladipo said. “We were getting some good shots. But at the end of the day, we were getting back and locking up and playing defense.”
Behind an excellent night from some hot-again shooters, another rounded statistical performance from Oladipo and one of its best defensive performances in Big Ten play to date, No. 7 Indiana (17-2, 5-1) dispatched of Penn State (8-11, 0-7) by 23 points Wednesday night, winning 72-49.
After opening the game on a 7-0 run, the Hoosiers started losing easy points around the rim and slowing down offensively. They would score just 10 in the next eight minutes, shooting 4-of-12 from the floor in that stretch, but an 11-6 edge in rebounds in that same span kept Penn State from evening the score. Indiana outran the Nittany Lions 14-9 with a late first-half surge to reach the intermission up 14.
That’s when the 3-point line turned the game into a rout.
Ferrell hit a 3-pointer out of the corner on Indiana’s first possession of the second half. Jordan Hulls sank one from the wing. Indiana as a team would make its first six long-range tries after the break, pulling away from a severely undermanned Penn State squad.
But again, Indiana wanted to talk defense, even when the shots began falling.
“We had three stops in a row on defense,” Sheehey said of IU’s start to the second half. “It’s science, basketball science, that if you get a stop, it leads to baskets on the other end.”
Science or simple math, it did not matter, as Penn State simply could not keep up.
Ferrell finished with a career-high 15. Sheehey, who hadn’t hit double figures in scoring in 2013, knocked down 4-of-6 shots and all three of his 3-point tries. Christian Watford scored in double digits for the ninth-consecutive game.
By night’s end, the only Hoosier whose stat line might have disappointed was Cody Zeller, who for the first time in his prolific career went an entire game without making a field goal. Zeller had trouble finishing early, and he missed four shots from the floor, scoring two points total.
But running with the theme of the night, though, Zeller finished with double-figure deflections, according to IU coach Tom Crean, and he also posted eight rebounds and three blocks.
“He was really good with the rebounding, especially in the first half,” Crean said, echoing his players’ assertion that Zeller’s point total did little justice to his overall performance.
And indeed, perhaps it did not do justice to Indiana’s overall performance either.
Crean praised the Hoosiers’ shooting performance afterward, noting the 11-of-20 mark from behind the 3-point line in particular. But like his players, he wanted to talk defense first and foremost.
Indiana held Penn State to just 2-of-15 shooting from behind the arc, and the Nittany Lions only mustered 19 points in the first half.
Penn State’s talented backcourt duo of D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall teamed up for 30 points, but the rest of Penn State’s lineup could manage just 19 behind them, with every Nittany Lion beyond those two shooting a meager 5-of-23 combined. Only five visiting players made a field goal on the evening, and Crean said his team totaled 64 deflections.
All of that, Crean said, is evidence of a team embracing the identity it seeks for itself, one grounded in Oladipo’s pregame proclamation — for Indiana, defense comes first, and there is no close second.
“They are really trying to put themselves in a place where they can hang their hat on the defensive end, and we’re getting there,” Crean said. “The bottom line is, you’ve got to be able to defend.”