By Seth Hine
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Hoosiers were struggling to contend with multiple histories in their first game of the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament. There were the frustrating, narrow defeats throughout this season. There were the five conference tournament losses in seven games since 2016. There was the nine-game losing streak to Michigan.
And then there was that 17-point Michigan lead with just 12:52 to play.
Indiana shoved its frustrations aside in the din of Gainbridge Fieldhouse. A 31-9 rush propelled the Hoosiers to a 74-69 victory over the Wolverines that preserved Indiana’s hopes for a NCAA bid and abruptly altered the narrative of its season.
“This is probably the biggest win for our program in such a long, long time,” Indiana coach Mike Woodson said.
The ninth-seeded Hoosiers (19-12) advanced to a quarterfinal against top-seeded Illinois at 11:30 a.m. Friday. An Indiana victory would put in the Hoosiers in a conference semifinal for just the fifth time, and the first since 2013. Indiana’s victory improved its Big Ten tournament record to 14-23.
The 17-point deficit was the second-largest overcome in the 24-year history of the tournament, one point less than Ohio State’s come-from-behind victory over Nebraska in 2014. Indiana sophomore Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half. His 10-of-17 shooting overcame several early misses close to the basket. He had eight rebounds and four blocked shots.
Junior guard Xavier Johnson scored 17 points, and all seven of his assists were in the second half.
As the Indiana comeback began to take shape and the noise began to build, Jackson-Davis thought back to one of the biggest disappointments of the season, the loss at Wisconsin on December 10 after a 22-point lead disappeared.
“You watch a team and you start coming back and the one team believes and the other team gets defeated,” he said. “So we believed we were going to win and we kind of saw them deflating and deflating, and then we finally got back.”
Michigan (17-14) was coached by Juwan Howard for the first time since his five-game suspension. Now the Wolverines will wait for Sunday’s announcement of the NCAA field.
”They came out playing more physical,” Michigan guard De Vante’ Jones said of the Hoosiers. Jones scored 18 points, but this three turnovers, all in the second half, contributed to the defeat. “They had more effort than us in the second half,” Jones said. “I take a lot of that blame for the turnovers that I had, a lot of costly turnovers that I usually don’t make. So I just put that on myself.”
Michigan sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, who scored 15 points in the first half, was limited to two points, on 1-of-3 shooting, in the second half. Michigan committed 10 of its 12 turnovers in the second half, leading to 17 Indiana points.
Michigan would still retain the lead until 5:39 left in the second half, when two free throws by Jackson-Davis gave the Hoosiers a 63-62 lead. Graduate student Eli Brooks made two foul shots for a 64-63 Wolverine lead, the last of the afternoon.
This time, in the final minutes, Woodson saw something new. “In the timeouts, I saw steadiness,” he said. “Like we’ve been here and we’ve struck out so many times that we’re not going to let it happen tonight. And we came out of the timeout and we executed. We made plays that we needed to make to secure the win.”
The Hoosiers held the lead for just 8:02, but they led when it counted.
Indiana has reached just one conference championship game, a loss to Iowa in 2001. Suddenly, all things seemed possible.
“We want to win this whole thing,” Johnson said, “and that’s what we plan on doing.”
First, there is the challenge of the top-seeded Illini.
“I’ve never played on Friday,” Jackson-Davis said. “So it’s a new experience for me.”