It’s too early to say that this was a must-win type of game for Indiana tonight at home against Wisconsin, but it certainly was close to being just that. The Hoosiers began Big Ten play with losses against Illinois and Michigan State before eking out a 79-76 win over Penn State this past weekend. They seemed destined for a 1-3 start with the Badgers coming to Bloomington.
The issue with the Hoosiers is that they had failed in every test this season. In fact, their best win prior to tonight was a neutral court victory against a mediocre Washington squad.
And then, the Hoosiers beat Wisconsin, 75-72 — a team that was a perfect 16-0 and looking like the class of the Big Ten.
Yogi Ferrell has developed from a mere role player a season ago, to their leader this year, and the sophomore guard put Indiana on his back tonight. Ferrell dropped in 25 points on 10-24 shooting. Despite being benched for the beginning of the second half by Tom Crean, Ferrell came on strong — along with the rest of his team — in the latter part of the half.
The game was nip-and-tuck for the opening half, but Wisconsin looked like they were going to pull away after taking a 52-42 lead with 13:30 remaining on a three-pointer by Sam Dekker.
The Hoosiers, however, had none of it. With so much on the line — perhaps their at-large hopes on life support if tonight ended with another loss — Indiana responded with a 12-0 run, with baskets coming from five different players.
Down the stretch, however, it was all Ferrell and Stanford Robinson as the two combined for Indiana’s final 14 points. Ferrell, in particular, connected on two key free throws with 18.1 seconds remaining to extend their lead to 75-72. Two three-point shots at the end by Wisconsin missed the mark, the Indiana shooting section stormed the court, and one of the four remaining unbeatens were knocked off their perch.
This Hoosier team still has plenty of flaws — namely how turnover prone they are on offense — but they demonstrated they will still be a factor in the Big Ten this season. With a home game against Northwestern coming up this weekend, Indiana is in good position to move above .500 in the Big Ten. Now, a big game at Michigan State looms next Tuesday.