For more than a month, Mike Woodson's Indiana Hoosiers have repeatedly let late leads slip away. When it came to winning time, Indiana would fall apart, patently refusing to show the kind of heart necessary to win in big-time college basketball. The players played hard, but without the laser-focus they needed. It appears the Hoosiers have finally found that gear.
Indiana pulled off a near miracle on Thursday. The Hoosiers were dead in the water, trailing Michigan by 17 points during the second half of their second round Big Ten Tournament matchup. As the clock ticked down on Indiana's tournament hopes, something clicked. The Hoosiers locked in on defense and found space on offense. They turned it all around and raced to a stunning 74-69 win, spoiling Juwan Howard's comeback.
What makes that result even more insane is that the Hoosiers were facing the same Michigan team that crushed them 80-62 at Assembly Hall back in January. Indiana got run off the floor in its own building that day and was never really in the game. On Thursday, IU trailed 41-28 at the half, and 60-43 with 12:54 to play. that's when the Hoosiers locked in on defense and went on a 22-2 run to take the lead.
Woodson has had Indiana playing suffocating defense all season. The Hoosiers are 19th in the country in defensive efficiency and had the top unit in the Big Ten. The problem had always been translating that success to the offensive end of the floor. On Thursday, the Hoosiers held Michigan to 28 second half points. The Wolverines only made eight field goals while turning it over 10 times.
The Hoosiers were led by Trayce Jackson-Davis' game-high 24 points and eight rebounds. Jackson-Davis took over the game in the second half, scoring 19 points and blocking four shots in the second frame. Point guard Xavier Johnson was similarly brilliant in the second half, pouring in nine points, grabbing, six rebounds and dishing out seven assists after the break.
But the story of the game for Indiana -- other than the suffocating defense -- was the lift provided by two bench pieces. Jordan Geronimo, an under-used forward, played 12 minutes in the second half and was a ball of energy on both ends of the floor. While the stat sheet won't show his impact (two points, two rebounds, two blocks), the Hoosiers were +22 in the second half with Geronimo in the game.
Similarly, wing Trey Galloway didn't score in the second half, but played 17 minutes and Indiana was +20 when he was in the game. He's one of the few Hoosiers (along with Johnson) who actually move the ball with purpose on offense, and the team plays with far more energy when he's on the court.
Woodson deserves a ton of credit for adjusting his lineup on Thursday, something he's struggled to do all season. He sat starters Race Thompson and Parker Stewart, replacing them with Geronimo and Galloway. It sparked Indiana and he stuck with it. Thompson and Stewart played a combined 11 minutes in the second half.
Indiana now gets to face Illinois on Friday. The Illini dominated the Hoosiers 74-57 at Assembly Hall on February 5 in a game Indiana actually led at halftime. It's a terrible matchup on paper, but if Woodson's team can defend the way it did on Thursday anything is possible.
A win over Illinois might actually get the Hoosiers back into the tournament field. A place they haven't been since 2016. It's going to take a lot of heart for that to happen.