Friday, January 28, 2011
Do Real Hoosiers Cry? You Bet, And For Good Reason
Admit it. Did you tear up a little when Indiana stunned Illinois, when it finally won a big-time game against a ranked opponent?
Yes, the Hoosiers did upset Pitt last year in New York City as part of the Jimmy V Classic, but the Panthers weren’t ranked at the time. The Illini were ranked Thursday night, at No. 20. They came in with as much talent as anybody in the Big Ten not wearing Ohio State jerseys.
No matter. IU won and the victory has the makings of a season changer. Make that a program changer. The big key -- maintaining the consistent excellence and toughness that made it happen.
The cynical will dismiss this because that is their nature. And, with all the losing and bone-headed hires Indiana has seen lately, cynicism is understandable. Just don't bring down those who, at last, have hope again that a turnaround is coming.
Indiana won the old-fashioned way -- with tenacious defense and timely plays, including a game-winning basket from Tom Pritchard, the guy who seemingly had forgotten how to score. Maybe this basket enables him to resurrect his freshman form, when he seemed a player on the rise with a solid offensive future.
“We had to be on top of every facet of the game,” coach Tom Crean said. “We have to be good offensively. We had to be good defensively. We had to be good at timeouts. We had to be good in transition. We got better at rebounding.”
Hey, did you notice that the Hoosiers were 11-for-11 from the free throw line? They haven’t been perfect there since going 7-for-7 against Ohio State on Feb. 10, 2008.
Crean was so pumped he was celebrating with fans in Assembly Hall’s South Lobby after the game. Why not? His last win over a ranked team had come while he was at Marquette. It was an 89-79 victory over No. 14 Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament.
The Hoosiers can relate. Their last victory over a ranked team came on Feb. 19, 2008, when they beat No. 14 Purdue 77-68 in Assembly Hall. They were ranked No. 15 and coached by He Who Shall Remain Nameless.
The last time an unranked IU team beat a ranked squad came on Jan. 31, 2007, when it upset No. 2 Wisconsin 71-66 in Assembly Hall.
In case you’ve forgotten, the Hoosiers will get another upset chance Sunday when they play at No. 25 Michigan State.
Make that soon-to-be-ex-No.-25 Michigan State.
After Iowa, everybody seemed to be calling out the Hoosiers. That’s part of the major college sports deal. There’s a lot of passion, a lot of caring. When you win, it’s wonderful. When you lose, it stinks.
Right about now around the basketball program it smells like a brand new Ferarri, not that we know what a brand new (or even an old) Ferarri smells like.
Christian Watford understands the passion. He’s played under it for nearly two years and faced the criticism from his own coach and others -- that his effort doesn’t always match his talent. In the end, the best motivation comes from within and your own buring desire. It’s not a fear of failure, but a hatred of losing so that you’ll do everything within the rules (sportsmanship matters) to win.
In fact, that’s exactly how IU beat Illinois. Sure, the Illini have not played to their talent level, mostly because they play soft. That’s a style the Hoosiers have been familiar with this season.
But not against Illinois. On that magical night (remember when Assembly Hall magic was the norm and not the exception?) Indiana played with passion and fire and toughness. It was a bruising, physical game and the Hoosiers thrived in it.
In the end, they were rewarded for it.
“All the hard work you do and all the competing pays off,” Watford says. “This is what we’ve been working for. We finally put it together. It gives us a lot of confidence.”
Confidence is crucial for a program trying to learn how to win again. The fact the Hoosiers handled the end-of-game heat, while the more experienced Illini did not, bodes well for the future.
“Being able to make those kind of plays in crunch time is going to be big for us,” guard Jordan Hulls said. “We’re looking forward to doing that in the future.”
The future starts Sunday.
“We know Michigan State will be tough,” Watford says, “especially after losing to Michigan.”