INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The rubber match has arrived.
Indiana’s 89-64 victory over Nebraska Wednesday night sends the Hoosiers (20-12) into Thursday night’s Big Ten tourney quarterfinals against Penn State (21-10) at Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The teams split their regular season games, each winning at home.
“The energy level and adrenaline and feeling good about yourself in the postseason is upon you,” coach Archie Miller said. “You get an opportunity to play against a really good Penn State team.”
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Thursday night’s game, and the rest of the Big Ten tourney, will be played without fans. Conference officials will limit attendance to players, coaches, event staff, essential team and conference staff, TV network partners, credentialed media and immediate family members.
“I would say it will be a heck of an environment in here,” Miller said, “but it will be more of a closed scrimmage, which is unfortunate.
“We’ll be ready to go. Penn State has had a heck of a season, they have a heck of a team. We’ll have a good challenge.”
News that the NBA suspended its season in the wake of a player testing for the coronavirus broke during the game.
“We’ll brace ourselves for what happens next,” Miller said. “It’s an evolving situation, and it’s rapid.
“You cross your fingers that the college basketball landscape can continue even if it means there aren’t fans. You hope for the best, which is it allows us to continue to play, but when world experts speak up, you’d better listen.
“This is uncharted territory, and serious.”
Freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis on BTN compared playing in basically an empty arena to last fall’s exhibition game against Marquette.
“One of the great things about being at Indiana is the fans,” Miller said. “We come heavy when we come. When we play in Indianapolis, we get unbelievable support, and it would only grow.
“It’s like I told our guys, we’ve scrimmaged here. We’ve played with no one in here. It is what it is.”
Indiana’s huge advantages in size and depth paid off Wednesday night with a game-turning 31-5 run to end the first half and start the second. The Hoosiers had 10 first-half blocks to neutralize Nebraska’s inside scoring.
That was the game.
“Nebraska has been a tough guard for us,” Miller said. “Early on, I didn’t think we were ready. We had a big run which was a real key to the game.
“We were able to finish the game in a big way. We were committed to playing a lot of guys. We had a lot of guys play valuable minutes and get things done.”
Indiana had five players score in double figures, with 10 scoring at least four points. Jackson-Davis had his 12th double-double with 11 points and a career-high 17 rebounds.
Freshman guard Armaan Franklin broke out of a scoring slump with 13 points, plus eight rebounds and three assists, and drew three charges.
“I’m proud of Armaan,” Miller said. “His role hasn’t diminished in our eyes, but his minutes have gone down.
“He stays with it. He’s a great kid, He’s an unbelievable teammate.
“When you look at who can help you at this time of year when it means the most, it’s the guys who care the most. Armaan cares. Tonight he got his number called, he was plus 32 in his minutes. That’s a direct result of how he played. He really stepped up.”
Guard Devonte Green and forward Justin Smith each had 12 points. Guard Al Durham had 11 points. Guard Rob Phinisee came close to a double-double with nine points and seven rebounds.
The Hoosiers were 9-for-22 from three-point range, and had 23 assists against 10 turnovers in Miller’s first Big Ten tourney victory.
“Everybody contributed in a big way,” Miller said, “and we needed it.”
The Cornhuskers (7-25) lost their 17th straight game, and then coach Fred Hoiberg at the end with an undisclosed illness.
IU opened 6-for-7 from the field in the first five minutes, but still trailed 14-13 because Nebraska was 3-for-4 from three-point range.
Both teams set a furious pace. The Cornhuskers, with just seven scholarship players, began losing their shooting touch. The Hoosiers sustained theirs behind a get-it-in-the-paint attack featuring Jackson-Davis and Brunk. A 10-2 run boosted them to a 21-16 lead.
Nebraska surged back for a 33-27 lead, but had no inside attack against the Hoosiers’ shot-blocking frenzy. IU took advantage to end the half on a 16-1 run, highlighted by Franklin and Green three-pointers, for a 43-34 lead.
All 10 Hoosiers scored at least two points, led by Green’s seven.
IU scored the first four points of the second half en route to building a 21-point lead.
Nebraska came back with an 11-0 run to the cut lead to 10 with 8:22 left before Indiana settled down, got the ball inside, and pulled away for the victory.
“We got the job done,” Miller said, “and we’re moving on.”