Thursday, January 27, 2011
IU Finds Basketball Glory; Rivers Is No Batman
Jeremiah Rivers knew he wasn’t Batman. This was a good thing although he admitted that he wouldn’t actually MIND being Batman. The crime fighter does have cool gadgets, a cool cape and a knack for saving the world.
Still, being an Indiana Hoosier is good enough these days, and oh how happy these next couple of days will be. IU has finally beaten a ranked team. It stunned No. 20 Illinois 52-49 Thursday night and if the score had a dead-ball era feel to it, nobody is complaining. Heck, this hasn’t happened in Cream ‘n Crimson circles since Kelvin Sampson was the coach back in 2008 and his soon-to-be-imploding Hoosiers upset a ranked Purdue squad in Assembly Hall.
No wonder students stormed the court in a post-game celebration that made you remember a Cream ‘n Crimson era when nobody stormed this court because big wins were commonplace.
They haven’t been for a while, although coach Tom Crean insists that will change. Given what IU just did, you have to believe him.
In the meantime consider Rivers. The senior guard has become a defensive specialist. His role is not to run the offense or score much. He’s basically an offensive facilitator whose main job is to lock down the opposing team’s best offensive threat unless that threat is named Jared Sullinger, the Ohio State super freshman center who already has won more Big Ten freshman and player of the week awards than most universities do in a decade.
Anyway, Rivers drew the Illini’s Demetri McCamey who, until Thursday night, had the look of the Big Ten’s best point guard. Rivers turned him into Mr. Irrelevant. McCamey scored just six points (nine below his team-leading average) on 2-for-11 shooting. McCamey had three assists and five turnovers.
Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, Rivers was not available when Illinois had its last chance to force overtime. Why? Because he was knocked silly by a screen while trying to guard McCamey. Rivers staggered to the sideline as if he had blindsided by a James Harrison knockout tackle. Harrison, for those not into NFL thrills, is the oft-fined (and very unfairly fined) linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers known for his concussive hits.
Rivers was fine after the game. He knew his name; knew he was not Batman; understood the significance of the victory.
“I just got rocked and for a few minutes I was dizzy,” he said. “I was seeing double. I prayed for it not to be a concussion. I prayed I could regain focus.
“I was guarding McCamey full court. They hadn’t set a screen like that all game. I was surprised.”
Rivers’ huge role in the upset was only partially reflected in a stat line in which he totaled two points, a team-leading six rebounds, three assists, two turnovers and three steals in 32 minutes.
“That was the epitome of what Jeremiah Rivers is all about,” Crean said. “He’s not about stats. You put his speed and strength and toughness with that mindset, a lot of good things can happen.”
A lot of good things did happen Thursday night for an 11-10 team that seemed poised for another winter meltdown in the seemingly never-ending quest to restore the program’s glory.
IU won for a lot of reasons and perhaps the main one is that it followed Crean’s main instruction almost to perfection:
“Let’s be locked in and locked down.”
And so the Hoosiers won and it was significant. It could even be season saving.
These guys played some solid defense. The key is to make it a habit, and the first place to start is Sunday at suddenly reeling Michigan State. The Spartans are as vulnerable as they’ve ever been under Tom Izzo. Indiana has a chance in the Breslin Center where they haven't won since George Bush the elder (thanks to the reader for the help!) was president.
We’ll address that more in a future blog.
Anyway, crunch time execution is a marvelous thing when done right. It’s agony when screwed up.
Indiana had spent most of the season messing it up. On Thursday night, it forced Illinois to mess up. Leading the Illini wrong way was center Mike Tisdale, whose crucial turnover happened on a really bad pass with 16 seconds left and IU clinging to a one-point lead.
This could be a turning point -- if the Hoosiers sustain and improve on this performance. There are five home games remaining (Minnesota, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin) and IU has a shot to win at least three of them if it keeps playing like this. Maybe it wins at Michigan since it’s already beaten the Wolverines at Assembly Hall. Maybe it wins at Michigan State.
“This gives us some confidence we can do it (play defense) against high-level teams,” Crean said.
If they do, anything is possible, even Rivers thriving as Batman.
Yeah, we know. Work with us here.
You might have noticed the tremendous improvement in the look and the design of this blog. Yes, after a year of torturing readers with our own unique design talent, which ranks on par with our inability to swim and dunk baskets, we have gone cutting edge. Credit goes to Aaron Hockemeyer, an award-winning Fort Wayne web designer, a graduate of IPFW and a “lifelong Hoosier.” He has the expertise to make this blog, or any web site, eye catching, visually appealing and something you can’t help but be drawn to.
For this we say a huge thanks.