INDIANAPOLIS — There was a point early in the second half of Saturday’s All-Star game that the members of the vaunted Indiana basketball Class of 2012 decided amongst each other that what was occurring on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse floor was unacceptable.
Indiana was sending all 13 players on its squad to Division I squads and nine of those to major conference teams. Kentucky didn’t have a high-major signee and was sending just five of its players to Division I.
The game shouldn’t have been close, and Indiana certainly shouldn’t have been down 55-49 with 13 minutes to play as it was.
“When we were down five, I remember I looked at Yogi (Ferrell) and I said, ‘We can’t lose this game at home,’” said Gary Harris, Hamilton Southeastern guard, Mr. Basketball and a Michigan State commitment. “’We just can’t. We need to win.’”
From that point forward, the previously lethargic Indiana squad went on a 30-5 run to win 83-73 in front of 5,938 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Paired with Friday night’s 90-85 win at Freedom Hall, it gave Indiana its fourth straight series sweep in the all-star series.
Whether that was enough for Indiana — which boasts seven players in Rivals.com’s Top 150 for the Class of 2012 — to live up to its hype is debatable. But at the very least, it avoided the potential disappointment of breaking that streak.
Harris led the team with 17 points and five steals. Broad Ripple guard and Indiana signee Ron Patterson had 14 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Pike guard R.J. Hunter had 11 points and four assists and Lawrence Central swingman and Indiana signee Jeremy Hollowell had nine points and nine rebounds.
“We definitely didn’t want to let everyone else down,” Park Tudor point guard and Indiana signee Yogi Ferrell said. “… We just wanted to live up to what everyone else expected to us, and I think we did tonight.”
The reason that happened, they said, was that after a week of prodding from Jay County coach Craig Teagle, they finally put their collective efforts into defense.
It all started with Harris, who played worthy of his Mr. Basketball title all week. With Indiana down 51-47, he gambled on a pass at the top of the key, stole that and turned it into an easy fast break dunk.
Though Indiana fell behind by two more buckets after that, the squad realized what it had to do. Indiana hadn’t shot well up until that point — making just 35.7 of its shots (15-of-42) in the first half — and would make life much easier on itself if it could create turnovers and get out in transition.
“Defense carried into our transition game,” Ferrell said. “We were playing our game. We’re an athletic fast team. They weren’t really getting back at all. We would always have 3-on-1 opportunities. We were just getting easy buckets. Just talking on defense just led to easy buckets on our offense.”
Said Harris: “Once we saw we were getting easy buckets, we wanted to play defense so we’d get more easy buckets. I think that just gave us a little spark.”
The Indiana lineup of Ferrell, Harris, Hunter, Hollowell Hollowell, Avon forward Austin Burgett and Pike guard R.J. Hunter was on the floor for most of the 20-2 run that ballooned into the 30-5 stretch. Ferrell provided the on-the-ball pressure up the floor. Harris and Hunter gave them two long-armed wing defenders, and Hollowell and Burgett managed to provide post defense to a squad that didn’t have much inside. When they weren’t creating steals — Indiana had 14 of those in the second half — they were contesting shots. Kentucky shot just 11-for-30 (36.7 percent) in the second half.
“We kept getting them to try to buy in on the defensive end (all week),” Teagle said. “’Guys, you’re so athletic, you’re so intelligent, you’re long, you can just be a shutdown team.’ … It’s just one of those things, the longer we would’ve had them, the better they would’ve been defensively. I’m telling you, when a college coach gets these guys under their wing for four or five months during the season, you’re going to see some outstanding defense from all of them.”
They got just enough of it on Saturday night to make certain to meet expectations and continue Indiana’s sweep streak through 2012.