It's hard to imagine fifth-ranked Indiana could have played any better in the first half against eighth-ranked Minnesota while building a 23-point lead at the break. It was also hard to imagine how the Hoosiers let that lead dwindle to just 3 points with 19 seconds left in the game. The Hoosiers hung on to beat the Golden Gophers, 88-81.
"We had a good first half," said Indiana sophomore Cody Zeller, who scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds, and blocked three shots. "Maybe our energy dropped off a little bit. We'll be all right. A win's a win. They're tough to come by sometimes. We'll take it."
Indiana (15-1, 3-0) played incredible first-half defense. The Hoosiers forced 12 turnovers with 7 steals. Hoosier hands were swiping or deflecting passes or blocking shots. IU scored 19 points off Minnesota (15-2, 3-1) mistakes.
The Hoosiers also shot an incredible 66% in the first half, including 7-for-11 on-pointers. Indiana took a 52-29 lead to halftime.
"Our defense is really what got us going," said Indiana guard Jordan Hulls, who scored 19 points. "Victor (Oladipo) did a great job on the ball, getting steals and fast breaks, just the little things on defense that led to our offense. That's what we have to do to keep on winning."
Indiana hosted its first game between two top ten teams since 2000, when Bob Knight was still head coach. The Gophers are the only team to beat the Hoosiers in Bloomington in the past two seasons. Minnesota came close again.
Andre Hollins scored 25 points, leading all five Gopher starters in double figures. Minnesota used its own stiff defense, including an effective full court press, to whittle down the Indiana lead throughout the 2nd half. Indiana guard Victor Oladipo also helped by fouling a three-point shooter three times.
"As a leader on defense, I cannot make those mistakes," said Oladipo, who led IU with 20 points, six rebounds and three steals. "I feel like I almost blew the game away. That's nine free throws I just let them have. I have to be more disciplined and stay down. I was making dumb, little mistakes toward the end of the game."
It was a tale of two halves. The Hoosiers second half obviously did not match the first.
"We just have to have to continue to have that same energy, playing a lot harder and a lot smarter," said Indiana freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell, who scored 13 points and delivered eight assists. "We got complacent, especially on our jump shots. Our transition defense wasn't as great as it could be."
The mood of Indiana coaches and players was less than celebratory after the game, despite a win against a Minnesota team whose only previous loss was against top-ranked Duke.
"A year ago we would have been ecstatic with that victory," said Indiana coach Tom Crean. "I want them to enjoy it. But we have different expectation levels now. It's not the outside expectations. It's the expectations level inside of where we need to be."
The Hoosiers led start to finish for their 4th straight win at home against a top ten team. Indiana hosts Wisconsin Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m.