There were many different times the game Wednesday night between IU men’s basketball and Penn State could have ended — four different times, to be exact.
It could have ended with IU blowing a 13-point first-half lead, but freshman forward De’Ron Davis hit two clutch free throws with three seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
There was also a chance that a replay review could have ended this game, but junior guard Josh Newkirk got the basketball out of his hand with a tenth of a second left on the game clock to force a double overtime.
“Every team made mistakes, but every team made big plays, it had a lot of everything, not a little of everything, a lot of everything and the proudest thing I am with these guys is how they never gave in,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “There were numerous times we could have won it, there were times Penn State could have won it, and it really came down to a battle of wills.”
The Hoosiers were without their leading scorer junior guard James Blackmon Jr. for the second consecutive game with a lower leg injury. Blackmon had been the savior for IU the last time these two teams met two weeks ago by hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer after the Hoosiers squandered a 13-point lead on the road.
In Sunday’s loss at Northwestern it was evident the Hoosiers were missing Blackmon’s production in the backcourt. Junior guard Robert Johnson and sophomore forward Thomas Bryant were leaned on heavily, and Wednesday they were called on to do the majority of the damage as well but had another supporting member with them.
Junior guard Josh Newkirk finished with a career-high 27 points and hit four of IU’s six 3-pointers. He had 10 points in the three overtime periods. Newkirk only attempted one shot in the first matchup between these teams and was one of eight from the floor last game against Northwestern.
“I think it was great for him and for the team,” Johnson said of Newkirk. “He came out aggressive, and you know when he comes out like that he’s hard to deal with. I think this will be something good for him to build on because we’re going to need it moving forward.”
Newkirk, Johnson and Bryant all finished with career high in points. Bryant led the way with 31 points, and Johnson matched Newkirk’s 27.
Coming into Wednesday night’s game the Hoosiers were last in the Big Ten with nearly 15 turnovers per game, and Penn State was first with nearly 15 forced turnovers a game. The Hoosiers coughed up the ball 23 times in the 55-minute game leading to 29 Penn State points.
However, poor free throw shooting by the Nittany Lions bailed out the Hoosiers from losing the game in regulation. Penn State missed all five of its free throw attempts in the first half, but stayed close due to streaky 3-point shooting and the Hoosiers over-helping on defense.
It wasn’t just the production of Bryant, Newkirk and Johnson on Wednesday night that propelled IU past Penn State.
Freshman guard Devonte Green also contributed large minutes in the triple-overtime win. Green made his second straight start and put up his first career double double with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 45 minutes of play. He also had a key steal and layup off an inbounds pass after a made three by Newkirk that put IU up five in the final overtime.
“I only saw the tail end of him making the basket,” Crean said. “We were trying to get the team down the court when he hit the three. It was huge. By the crowd’s reaction and our bench reaction, monumental play inside a great game that had a lot of big moments.”
Tonight’s thriller shouldn’t come as a surprise given the recent history between the Hoosiers and Lions. The last five meetings between these programs have all been decided by an average of three points and Wednesday was another exciting finish.
Crean said his biggest takeaway was that his guys never gave in and his team continues to fight despite missing key players.
“We had some real growth tonight,” Crean said. “And I’ve coached a long time. I hope I coach a while longer, but I will remember this one for the rest of my life.”