Indiana’s tournament hopes are very much alive.
The Hoosiers used a big second half defensive effort to overcome a strong shooting effort from the Spartans, upsetting Michigan State for the second time this season. The win represents Indiana’s fifth victory of the season over a top-25 opponent and put the Hoosiers firmly back inside the tournament discussion.
For much of the first half, Michigan State had its way with the Indiana defense. Big Ten player of the year candidate Cassius Winston was able to dice up the Indiana defense, scoring himself and finding the open man leading Michigan State to shoot 60% from the field in the first half.
The Hoosiers hung around behind the strong play of Justin Smith. Smith played arguably the best game of his young career at Indiana, knocking down a trio of three-point shots and scoring 16 of Indiana’s 27 first-half points.
After the break, Smith was able to get some much-needed help. Despite Winston’s impressive stats, Rob Phinisee gave about as good of a defensive effort you could’ve asked for and made Winston work on nearly every possession of the second half. Indiana was able to force the Spartans into 14 turnovers, and by the end of the game, the Spartans looked like a team that was tired both mentally and physically.
Indiana’s offense was able to get into a rhythm as well in the second half, though they just shot 40.6% from the field in the second half, Indiana was able to shoot 40% from behind the arc, with Devonte Green knocking down several big shots from behind the arc. The Hoosiers also attacked Michigan State on the glass for much of the second half, outrebounding them on the offensive end 15 to 5 on the night, including a 10 to 1 advantage in the second half.
While Indiana’s previous game against Wisconsin came down to the Hoosiers needing to convert on offense to end the game, this one came down to one final defensive possession. With the Hoosiers up one and just over eight seconds left on the clock, the Spartans turned to their star player in Winston to seal the win. Yet, Phinisee was up to the challenge defensively. Phinisee was able to keep Winston away from the paint, forcing him to settle for a contested jump shot from 15 away that bounced off the front of the rim, giving Indiana a possible season revitalizing win.
Following the Iowa and Purdue losses, it was clear Indiana was playing better, but the wins weren’t coming. Now, with consecutive wins against top 25 opponents in Wisconsin and Michigan State, Indiana looked to be a team that may have found an identity, relying on strong defensive efforts to win games.
Many may have given up on this season a couple weeks ago, but Indiana clearly hasn’t, and now the Hoosiers tournament hopes remain very much in play.