Tribune Star Correspondent
Indiana’s 23-point halftime lead had been cut to three points, but Jordan Hulls went to the free-throw line with a chance to secure a victory over Minnesota.
Hulls missed both, but Cody Zeller tipped the second miss to Hulls for the offensive rebound, and with a second chance, he got the job done.
“It wasn’t any of my doing, it was Cody (Zeller getting me the ball),” Hulls said. “Great play by Cody, it was a game-changer.”
This was the first time two Top-10 teams had faced at Assembly Hall since 2000, but it was no masterpiece. Still, the fifth-ranked Hoosiers (15-1, 3-0 Big Ten) escaped with an 88-81 victory on Saturday over No. 8 Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers (15-2, 3-1) were the last opponent to win on IU’s home court — one year ago Saturday, as a matter of fact — but IU’s scoring barrage in the first half made it look as if this would be an easy victory for the Hoosiers.
A game that was tied three times in the first six minutes , the last on a Joe Coleman jumper to tie the game at 12-12, turned when Hulls and his teammates started hitting from outside.
The Hoosiers hit seven of their final eight 3-point shots after missing their first three attempts from beyond the arc to build a 52-29 halftime lead.
“We did a really good job of moving the ball,” Hulls said of IU’s first-half success. “Our defense was really what got us going.”
IU was 21-of-32 overall from the floor in the first half while harassing the Gophers into 12-of-26 shooting.
“I was disappointed in our first half in the way we played,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “We weren’t aggressive. Obviously Indiana was much more aggressive offensively and defensively and it showed.”
The Hoosiers went cold in the second half, though, hitting just 6-of-21 from the field, 1-of-8 on 3-pointers and going 23-of-36 from the free-throw line.
“We’ve got to hit free throws,” Hulls said. “It’s going to get us if we don’t hit free throws.”
Hulls, a career 87.8 percent free throw shooter entering Saturday’s game, missed three straight late in the game. But his two makes with 15 seconds left put IU ahead 86-81, and after a missed 3-pointer by Andre Hollins, Christian Watford grabbed the rebound and hit two more free throws for the final points.
“I thought we did the things to help us give ourselves a chance, didn’t embarrass ourselves by folding the tent and heading home,” Smith said. “We’ve got a very competitive group of guys and that’s what I expected from them in the second half.”
Victor Oladipo led the Hoosiers with 20 points, but was critical of himself after fouling Minnesota shooters three times on 3-point attempts, including one with 19 seconds left on Hollins on which Oladipo fouled out.
“As a leader on defense, I cannot make those mistakes. To be honest, I feel like I almost threw the game away,” Oladipo said. “I was making dumb little mistakes toward the end of the game.”
Hulls finished with 19 points, Zeller scored 18, Watford scored 15 and Yogi Ferrell finished with 13 points as the Hoosiers got just three points from their bench.
Neither team’s substitutes helped much offensively, as Minnesota’s bench had just eight points.
Andre Hollins had 25 points to lead the Gophers, with Austin Hollins and Trevor Mbakwe each scoring 13 and Coleman and Rodney Williams each scoring 11. Mbakwe added 10 rebounds.