Is Indiana finally ready to play to its potential? Hoosiers face huge task Tuesday at Purdue.
James Blackmon went with instinct over instruction, and this time it worked.
That hasn’t always been the case, of course, in this most up and down of basketball seasons for the junior guard, and for the Indiana Hoosiers.
Will it go well again for Tuesday’s high-stakes game at rival Purdue?
Hold that thought.
Blackmon was spot on in the final 10 seconds of IU’s dramatic 63-62 comeback victory over Northwestern on Saturday, just as he was while hitting the three-pointer that beat Penn State last month.
He played good defense, grabbed a rebound, drove the length of the court, got into the lane and passed to teammate Thomas Bryant for the game-winning three-point play, all while coach Tom Crean was shouting for a timeout.
Blackmon said by the time he heard the timeout call, he was already in his game-deciding move. Crean, boosted by the realization that finally a close game went the Hoosiers’ way again, let it go.
“It was just a great play,” Crean said. “They did a great job.”
Blackmon, a former Bishop Luers standout, can make big-time plays at big-time moments, as all the Hoosiers can.
That they have not always done it, that they sometimes do things that defy logic and experience, is a major source of frustration for all parties concerned.
But perhaps Blackmon has learned from his lapses, and heaven knows there have been many, from the game-costing failure to block out at Minnesota, to throwing passes right to the other team, to the defensive breakdowns at, well, a bunch of places.
Perhaps all the Hoosiers have learned.
Some get the message right away. Others are more … deliberate.
Regardless, Blackmon is a top-level player (see his team-leading 16.9 points, plus 4.6 rebounds and 41.6-percent three-point shooting). So are Bryant, Robert Johnson, De’Ron Davis, Juwan Morgan and freshman Devonte Green (did you see his way beyond half-court three-point bomb that ended Saturday’s first half?).
You can win with these guys, and way beyond the 16-13 disappointment, 6-10 in the Big Ten, that has IU looking at a bottom-four conference finish.
If the Hoosiers figure it out, winning at Purdue and then at Ohio State on Saturday to end the regular season is not mission impossible. If you’ve seen the Big Ten this season, and all the parity that exists, you know everybody has a chance.
Still, IU had become the king of blown chances. Nine of its 13 losses have been by seven or fewer points.
Could winning a cliffhanger finally be the catalyst for a huge closing run?
We’ve asked this question before and, ultimately, gotten a no.
Maybe this time is different.
“It really gets our confidence going,” Blackmon said. “We always stick with it. We know that we’re right there. So many of the games we’ve lost have come down to one or two possessions. It was good to get this one.”
Tuesday night’s trip to Purdue has drama everywhere you look.
The Hoosiers are looking for a strong finish to ensure they end up with at least a winning record and a postseason tourney berth.
Yes, that’s the NIT.
The No. 14 Boilers (23-6, 12-4) need to win to stay atop the Big Ten leader board and position themselves for a strong NCAA tourney seed.
As for Crean, he’d just like the Hoosiers to play as they practice, to stay focused and resilient and determined, to be tough minded rather than soft.
Sure, injuries to OG Anunoby and Collin Hartman cost IU its national championship potential, but there was more than enough talent and experience to win 20-plus games and make the NCAA tourney.
Barring an unexpected surge, that won’t happen, but the Hoosiers can’t worry about that. For now, it’s all about beating their biggest rival at Mackey Arena, as loud a basketball facility as there is in the country. That would be payback for their 65-60 loss to Purdue at Assembly Hall a couple of weeks ago.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to get over the hump,” Crean said. “Will it be easy in there? Absolutely not. That’s a very difficult place to play.
“(Purdue) is good. They hit on all cylinders. We’ll make adjustments in our plan. There will be some different things we need to do, as we’ve gotten a little healthier.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to go in there and weather runs.”
More than that for the Hoosiers, it’s about going there and winning. <br>
<i><br> This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at email@example.com. </i><br>
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Tipoff: Indiana at Purdue, 7 p.m., Tuesday
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