Hoosiers win in a tight one against the Spartans
teams – in men’s basketball this year? Well, I’m not ready to back away from that statement completely, but I am ready to state the Hoosiers have ways to escape its wrath, especially with a 72-68 win over #4 Michigan State last night. (Miami just escaped it with a win over Virginia last night, and Florida fell victim to it in a loss to Missouri.)
I made that statement only days after Indiana had lost a seemingly impossible game to lose – and in somewhat bizarre circumstances – only days after regaining the top ranking. It wasn’t an isolated occurrence for number one teams; in the preceding weeks fans watched then-number-one teams Michigan, Duke, Lousiville, Duke, and Indiana all lose. It was a strange streak to watch teams lose almost immediately after being ranked as the number one team. A curse, if you will.
Thankfully, since pointing out the dreaded curse, Indiana has seemed to find a way to survive it. After their loss to Illinois, they were able to rebound with a convincing win on the road against Ohio State, 81-68. Because of this win – along with some key losses by other top teams (remember I’m not discounting this “curse” completely) – they maintained their top ranking.
They then went on to win two more games by a total of 57 points. A couple of cake games in an otherwise very deep and talented Big Ten Conference this year.
Then came last night’s matchup with #4 Michigan State, at Michigan State. A place that the Hoosiers hadn’t won a game in since February of 1991. A place where they had lost seventeen times in a row. In fact, Jordan Hulls was the only starter on the Hoosier squad who was even alive the last time that Indiana won at Michigan State. Add the notorious curse on top of that, and you’ve got some major hurdles to overcome if you’re Indiana and you’re expecting a victory at Michigan State.
The Michigan State students created an electric atmosphere with some raucous cheering from the “Izzone” student section. In the post-game interview, Indiana Coach Tom Crean stated that it was one of the loudest games in which he had ever been involved. It was also likely one of the most emotional as he was facing off against his mentor and friend, Tom Izzo who is a lock for the Hall of Fame.
There appeared to be some suspect calls that went Michigan State’s way, with one even giving them the opportunity to send the game into overtime if Gary Harris had made all of his free throws at the foul line. The scoreboard operators messed up the clock – not once, but twice!
It all seemed ripe for the Hoosiers to crack. To fall victim to this dreaded curse. But they didn’t. Even in the couple of instances where it seemed to be slipping through their fingertips, they found ways to step and make big plays.
With a seven point lead with sixteen minutes remaining, the Hoosiers went nearly five minutes with only a Hulls’ three pointer. Michigan State took their first lead of game since the early minutes of the game, and visions of the loss to Illinois seemed to be resurfacing. Zeller was finally able to squelch the Spartans’ momentum on an and-one play driving to the basket. Hulls knocked down another three and Sheehey added a jumper to stretch the Hoosiers’ lead back to what seemed comfortable. Close, but in control.
Then déjà vu. It happened again. The six point lead turned into four, which dwindled down to one, which eventually turned into a one point Spartan lead. The two teams battled back and forth exchanging leads for a few possessions. But the Hoosiers once again suffered a drought that lasted from four and a half minutes all the way until a minute and a half left in the game. The Spartans managed to grab ahold of a four point lead during that time, and once again, the nightmares of the Illinois final stretch came flashing to mind.
Then Christian Watford, the active Big 10 leader in points scored, came through with a hard drive that ended with an and-one three point play on a ten foot off balance shot. Oladipo then tipped in a missed Yogi Ferrell layup opportunity to put the Hoosiers up by a mere point.
Spartan freshman and Indiana native, Gary Harris, then missed a difficult driving layup. Christian Watford then found a streaking Oladipo on a full-court pass that ended with a dunk to put the Hoosiers up three with only four ticks left on the official clock (the mismanagement of which had already resulted in massive time stoppages for the officials to sort through the time issue on two occasions).
But the Hoosiers weren’t in the clear quite yet. The curse tried to rear its ugly head one last time as Sheehey was called for a suspect foul on Harris from beyond the arc. Harris stepped up to the free throw line with the opportunity to tie the game if able to make all three free throws. He missed the first. Indiana fans breathed a huge sigh of relief, but State still had a chance. Harris executed the rest of the trip to the line perfectly – he made the next free throw and intentionally missed the third, hoping for an offensive put-back that would tie the game. Instead, Oladipo came down with the rebound and hit the final two free throws with two seconds left to end the game.
So Indiana survived. They have found a way to fight off the curse in big games and in big moments. They shook off some suspect calls, they went into a hostile environment where they hadn’t won in over twenty years, they endured clock mismanagement and distractions, and they survived a close game. That’s an encouraging sight to see. And it shouldn’t be too surprising because I have stated several times that they are the best team in the country – they are both the most well-rounded and have the deepest talent pool of any team currently. They also have stars in the likes of Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, and Christian Watford who they can depend on.
But that doesn’t mean that they are in the clear or can relax at all. Because the curse is there lurking. And this season, any team can go down at any time, especially when your final games are against Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio State, and Michigan.