BLOOMINGTON – This was a statement.
Indiana's players would never admit it, but they had clearly heard the chatter from around college basketball: sure the Hoosiers were 7-0, but who had they beaten? No one of relevance, that's who.
Well, that argument doesn't work anymore. Indiana made sure of that with a large dose of Devonte Green magic and a terrific defensive performance down the stretch that guided them to a resounding 80-64 win over a talented Florida State team that came in winners of seven straight. The Hoosiers now have a resume-building win under their belt and are 8-0 for the first time since 2012-13, when they ended up Big Ten champions and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Obviously, no one is expecting that type of season, at least not yet, but the Hoosiers tonight showed off the template that could lead them to significant success this season: plenty of free throws (they went 23 for 39), a strong performance on the boards and veteran leadership in big moments from players such as Green and Justin Smith. The pieces seem to be there for this team and if tonight was any indication, Assembly Hall is going to be a very difficult place to win this season.
"That's, to me, how we're going to win," coach Archie Miller said. "We're going to win with trying to take care of the ball a little bit better (Note: the Hoosiers turned the ball over 18 times). We're going to win by, obviously, getting to the foul line. And we got to rebound like crazy. And that happened tonight in a couple areas and we were able to pull it out. Obviously, the home court helped."
It didn't hurt that Green played out of his mind for much of the night. He poured in 14 points in the first half (including one unconscious stretch in which he had three 3s on consecutive possessions) and added 16 more in the second half, including some huge baskets when the Hoosiers needed them most. There were moments in the second half especially when he tried to do too much, throwing some silly passes and dribbling into turnovers. At this point, those seem like they will be a permanent part of the Devonte Green Experience and there is a good chance that they will be IU's downfall in a game or two this season. If he's able to minimize those types of plays, he can be the explosive leader of Indiana's offense. He's an instinctual player, the type that understands exactly when Indiana needs him to make a play. He shrugged off those shaky moments in the second half and played like a go-to scorer down the stretch.
"(Green) stepped up tonight and he played as well as he's played all year long," Miller said. "And this is the kind of thing that we talked about in the off-season with him. He's got to be a playmaker for us. You're going to have to live with some of the stuff that he does because he is gifted and he is talented and he can make shots and you're going to need that kind of guy to do some of these things.
"And you have seen it a lot over college basketball the last few years, guys emerge, they're even seniors, they have great years. And so we talked about that with him. He's got an opportunity right now on a good team, in my opinion."
Green's mindset when he has it going like he did tonight can best be summed up by this exchange in the postgame:
Smith: "I tell (Green) to keep shooting, but I tell him to take good shots."
Green: "Every shot is a good shot."
When he's playing under control, it's nice to have a player on your team with that much confidence and the ability to back it up.
Maybe the biggest takeaway from tonight's game was that Indiana didn't wilt under pressure. Florida State threw everything it had against the Hoosiers in the second half, pressuring the ball, denying passing lanes, trapping ball-handlers as they tried to bring the ball up the court. It worked intermittently – Indiana turned the ball over 12 times in the second half – but the Hoosiers rarely seemed rattled in the biggest moments. Whenever it looked like Florida State might get over the hump and tie the game or take the lead, Indiana calmed down and made a play. That's a significant accomplishment for an inexperienced team with a large contingent of players still learning to play at the college level.
"I think those guys were very calm in the timeouts," Miller said. "There wasn't a whole lot of get flustered, 'Oh boy.' We have been through a lot. Some of these guys have been through a lot of games now and all of our newcomers, to me, have confidence. They're not afraid. But we were able to respond. And in most cases when you respond somebody on your team rises to the occasion. That was Devonte tonight."
The next test for Indiana is to go on the road. They'll face Wisconsin in one of the most hostile environments in the Big Ten on Saturday. Will that same poise be there? As of right now, I'd bet it will be. This team played beyond its years tonight in one of the most impressive wins of the Archie Miller Era.