It took me a couple days to understand the significance of the IU win over Minnesota on Sunday.
The Hoosiers defeated the Gophers 81-78 in overtime, despite blowing a 15-point lead in the second half. This game was another sign the team is improving and growing.
There were questionable calls by the officials. The Hoosiers did not fold.
There were missed shots. The Hoosiers did not fold.
There were missed free throws. The Hoosiers did not fold.
Minnesota built a quick 5-point lead in overtime. The Hoosiers did not fold.
It wasn't a perfect game. The offense became too conservative late in the second half as the team tried to protect its lead. IU sacrificed points to run the clock and Minnesota was able to tie the game with a few second left.
Still, there were more things to like about this performance. The evolution of Christian Watford is particularly exciting. Early in the season, Watford appeared to be playing timidly. Against Minnesota he played much more aggressive under the boards and has become a primary option on the offensive end. He scored 16 points and now is averaging 13 points per game, second-most on the team. I wished Watford had received more touches late in the second half. He could have iced the game during regulation.
The team also is improving on the defensive end, particularly rebounding the ball. IU grabbed 43 rebounds, including 20 offensive boards, while Minnesota managed 31 total rebounds, including 10 offensive.
If you have followed the Hoosiers over the past several years, you know IU has not been able to rebound the ball well at all. And too often late in games, IU had one shot per possession, while opponents had two or more. The Hoosiers had 17 second-chance points on Sunday to the Gophers' 12, a direct result of the rebounding edge.
The offensive collapse late in the game, I think a result of overly conservative play-calling, has to be corrected. This seems to happen all too often when the Hoosiers build a lead in the second half. But there are signs the toughness Coach Tom Crean is preaching is sinking in.
This win was another glimpse of this team's upside. I think they are starting to get it.
Note: The Hoosiers stand at 8-9 on the season, and 2-3 in the Big Ten. They travel to Penn State on Thursday. The game will be on ESPN2.