Indiana finally found what it was looking for Thursday night. The Hoosiers dug deep, struggled and pulled themselves back from the brink to secure a victory. In the process they found their heart and, with it, a level of toughness they'll need moving forward.
Indiana beat No. 11 Michigan State 67-63 Thursday night in front of a raucous crowd at Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers jumped out to a 20-6 lead early, weathered several storms and came out on top thanks to some tight defense late and a few clutch buckets. It was an absolutely enormous win for a team still struggling with consistency.
Thursday night's win was kind of complete performance coach Archie Miller has been looking for from his team. The Hoosiers are 15-4 but have really struggled to string quality performances together. Most of all, they've suffered lapses in focus, intensity and willingness to fight. In each of the team's four losses, Indiana suffered protracted scoring droughts and inexcusable defensive woes. During those stretches, the team often allowed itself to get bullied. That didn't happen Thursday night.
When Michigan State smacked Indiana in the face, the Hoosiers responded. Everyone up and down the lineup contributed, as each of the 10 Hoosiers who entered the game scored. Most importantly, Indiana won with toughness. The Hoosiers out-rebounded the Spartans 31-29, and won the scoring battle in the paint 34-18. Michigan State grabbed just five offensive rebounds and only converted those into four total points, as Indiana limited those opportunities.
That level of toughness and the ability to hang with a top-tier team all night is something Indiana has failed to show this season. Sure, the Hoosiers whipped Florida State 80-64 a few weeks ago, but guard Devonte Green's 30-point offensive explosion masked a lot of flaws in that contest. Thursday night felt like a more complete victory, with the team playing how Miller wants it to.
Indiana finally force-fed the post all night, something the team has failed to do consistently all season. Clearly this squad needs to win through the paint and that's what it did Thursday night. On defense, the Hoosiers looked connected, communicated and helped each other when things broke down. Guards Rob Phinisee and Armaan Franklin did outstanding work against Michigan State star Cassius Winston for most of the night, holding him in check for long stretches.
That kind of focused performance was sorely lacking in ugly losses against Wisconsin, Maryland and Rutgers. The win over Michigan State should act as a blueprint for the rest of the season. If Miller and his staff can harness what Indiana did Thursday night and use it moving forward, this could be a season that leads to big things.
The Hoosiers have several solid wins on their resume this season, but have never looked like a team destined for big things. Thursday night they looked dangerous, aggressive and tenacious. They looked like the kind of team you don't want to play with your season on the line. Most importantly, they oozed with toughness and grit, especially in big moments. That's exactly what Archie Miller has needed from this bunch for weeks.