No. 22 Indiana survives late-comeback by No. 17 Purdue

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
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No. 22 Indiana put together their best performance of the season on Saturday, knocking off No. 17 Purdue, 77-73, in Assembly Hall.

The final score is somewhat misleading. The Boilermakers hit a flurry of threes in the final four minutes, cutting what was at one point a 19-point lead all the way down to two with 45 seconds left. But after a Yogi Ferrell layup was goaltended by A.J. Hammons, Purdue was unable to get another shot off, and the Hoosiers moved into sole possession of first place in the conference.

So credit Purdue for not giving up when this one seemed over.

But don’t let that blind you to just how impressive Indiana’s performance was.

Because the Hoosiers did something that I never thought I would see out of this group: They out-toughed a bigger, stronger and more physical Purdue team.

They were the ones that made the plays defensively. They were the ones that seemed to come up with every loose ball. They were the ones that got the big stops, that hit the big shots, that took the Boilermakers out of everything they wanted to do on the offensive end of the floor.

And in the end, that was really what the difference was.

You don’t need me to tell you that the question mark surrounding this Indiana team was their strength on the interior and their ability to defend in the half court. Playing against the biggest and most physical front line in the country, the Hoosiers gave up just four offensive rebounds and five second chances points. Hammons, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas did combine for 39 points on 15-for-20 shooting from the floor, but the Hoosiers not only made it tough for Purdue to run offense. The Boilermakers thus struggled to get them the ball where they could be effective, and Indiana was able to take advantage of their mismatches at the other end of the court.

Max Biefeldt and Thomas Bryant combined for 20 points and knocked down three threes, the threat of their shooting ability pulling Purdue’s bigs away from the rim and opening up driving lanes for Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams. Those two finished with 39 points combined.

The Hoosiers are never going to be a great defensive team. But they were very, very good for the first 35 minutes on Saturday night.

When they play like that — that tough, that physical, that disciplined — they’re dangerous simply because their offense is so potent.

The question we’ll be looking to get answered in Indiana’s final three regular season games: Was this effort level simply the result of a heated in-state rivalry finally being relevant again, or is this who the Hoosiers are going to be for the rest of the season?