INDIANAPOLIS – Big Ten play came two weeks early for Indiana's youthful Hoosiers.
In the end, they proved they were not quite ready.
In a down-the-stretch Crossroads Classic nail biter, Notre Dame held on for a 79-72 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Saturday.
Senior swingman Will Sheehey bounced back from a four-game offensive deep freeze for a career-high-tying 22 points for IU (8-3). Sophomore guard Yogi Ferrell had 13 points and five steals. Evan Gordon came off the bench for 11 points.
It wasn't enough.
“We didn't get much done,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “We have a lot of young guys. We have a lot of room for improvement. I think we will. We're learning who we are as opposed to who we want to be.”
Notre Dame (8-3) learned a lot about its resiliency after bouncing back from Wednesday's home loss to North Dakota State.
“There was such an urgency,” forward Garrick Sherman said. “We're not stupid. We had to have this. The urgency was clean up to the roof.”
Notre Dame (8-3) was led by Jerian Grant's 23 points and nine assists. Sherman had 16 points, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals.
“Our guys were reeling a little bit,” Irish coach Mike Brey said, “and they answered every Indiana charge. I'm proud they answered it with defense.
“To beat these guys here is powerful for our program.”
Every possession was a battle. Notre Dame surged to leads as large as 13 in the first half, eight in the second. IU surged back for a second-half tie, but never led.
IU freshman Noah Vonleh got a lesson in post play. Notre Dame's Sherman and Zach Auguste pounded the paint in the first half for 8-for-8 shooting and a combined 19 points and four rebounds. They wound up with a combined 22 points on 9-for-11 shooting and seven rebounds.
The Irish controlled the first half. They shot better (51.5 percent to 50 percent), rebounded better (17-16) and had fewer turnovers (4 to 8).
The result -- IU gave up 47 points, which tied the most it had given up in any half this season. Washington also had 47, but in the second half of Indiana's 102-84 win.
Sheehey did all he could to keep the Hoosiers within early range. His 16 first-half points, on 7-for-10 shooting, were just two less than he'd scored in the previous four games combined. He had gone 0-for-5 from the field in his last game against Oakland.
Off-the-bench help came from Gordon, who hit his first two three-pointers and now has 51 points in his last three games.
But against a rejuvenated Notre Dame, that only got Indiana a five-point halftime deficit.
The Irish had spent Friday working on regaining their shooting touch after the North Dakota State loss. It paid off early. They hit their first two three-pointers and went ahead 12-6.
Sherman and Auguste were particularly effective inside early. They combined to hit their first seven shots for a combined 14 points as the Irish surged to a 35-22 lead.
IU rallied behind Sheehey before Notre Dame's Grant got free for a three-pointer to make it a 47-42 halftime lead.
The Hoosiers scored the first five points of the second half to forge a 47-47 tie.
Notre Dame pushed ahead 59-51. IU rallied to within one, but late turnovers cost them. So did a Demetrius Jackson block on a Yogi Ferrell layup.
Still, the Hoosiers had a chance. They closed within two and had a chance to get at least a tie.
It never happened. Notre Dame had survived. Indiana was left to wonder about what might have been.
“We gave them too many buckets in transition,” Sheehey said. “They really space the floors. They hit some easy ones early and that makes the tough ones a little easier.
"We have to play a lot better.”