Following a Demetrius Jackson tip dunk with 6:32 remaining that gave Notre Dame a 71-63 lead, Indiana looked to be in serious trouble at the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis. They weren’t stringing together stops defensively, thus preventing them from making a dent in the Fighting Irish advantage despite knocking down shots on the other end.
But Indiana went to a zone defensively and received a much-needed spark from Troy Williams, sparking a 17-2 run that turned the eight-point deficit into an 80-73 victory.
The junior wing scored seven of Indiana’s final 17 points, finishing with 18 points and ten rebounds on the afternoon. Williams’ intensity, like that of his teammates, hasn’t always been present this season especially on the defensive end of the floor. But that changed down the stretch against Notre Dame, with Bonzie Colson (24 points, eight rebounds) and V.J. Beachem (18 points) both going quiet as a result. Notre Dame shot a respectable 45.5 percent in the second half, but a lot of that damage was done early in the stanza.
Mike Brey’s team led by as much as 16, but the Hoosiers managed to avoid the play that could have served as the knockout blow. Ultimately the Hoosiers would take advantage of Notre Dame’s missed opportunities, and their play in the final six-plus minutes should be something for Tom Crean’s team to build upon.
But the question that begs asking is a simple one: why can’t Indiana play that way on a consistent basis?
There’s no question that the talent is present, with Ferrell running the point and multiple players capable of scoring on the wings such as Williams, James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson. But there hasn’t been a consistent commitment to getting stops instead of simply relying on their offensive talents and the mindset that “we’ll just get the points back on the other end.”
If Indiana is to compete with the likes of Michigan State, Maryland and Purdue in Big Ten play, they have to play with greater consistency and commitment on defense. Colson and Zach Auguste were a big reason why Notre Dame scored 46 points in the paint, as Indiana continues to struggle with its interior defense and that may be a trend the Hoosiers simply have to deal with. The move to zone helped Indiana account for this issue, and unlike their failed comeback attempt against UNLV last month the Hoosiers finished the job this time around.
The last six-plus minutes showed, to a certain extent, what Indiana is capable of when fully engaged. But the fact that they don’t play that way consistently is why there’s been so much frustration with this group. Can Saturday’s win serve as the spark Indiana needs? That remains to be seen.