While Indiana has experienced its fair share of issues on the road, the No. 15 Hoosiers were nearly unbeatable in front of their home crowd.
That could help Tom Crean’s team thrive in front of what should be a sizable following at the Big Ten tournament.
Playing just an hour north of Bloomington, fifth-seeded Indiana looks for its first conference tournament win in six years in Thursday’s first-round matchup with Penn State at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Hoosiers (24-7) head to Indianapolis riding a four-game winning streak. After becoming the first team in school history to defeat three top-5 teams during the regular season with a 70-55 win over then-No. 5 Michigan State on Feb. 28, Indiana knocked off archrival Purdue 85-74 on Sunday.
“We are running into a very hot team, much like Purdue,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers told the school’s official website. “So, we have to understand what is about to hit us in Indy.”
Indiana went just 5-6 in opposing arenas but took 18 of 19 on its own court, and could have a leg up with this tournament being played so close to home - even though it hasn’t won a Big Ten tournament game since 2006.
An impressive showing this week would certainly help the Hoosiers’ seeding heading into their first NCAA tournament under Crean.
“There is one thing left we haven’t done,” said senior Matt Roth, who leads the nation in 3-point percentage (57.4) among players with at least 65 attempts. “We’ve got to keep working, keep moving forward and we know what that is.”
The Hoosiers pulled out an 88-82 win at Penn State (12-19) on Jan. 8 behind a combined 50 points from Jordan Hulls and Roth, who made 12 of 15 from 3-point range.
While the Nittany Lions took a two-point lead into the break during their Jan. 22 visit to Assembly Hall, they were outscored 46-25 in the second half in what turned into a 73-54 rout.
Penn State knocked Indiana out of last season’s Big Ten tournament with a 61-55 first-round win - its second over the Hoosiers in Indianapolis in the past three years - and went on to reach the finals before falling 71-60 to top-ranked Ohio State.
A repeat performance from the Nittany Lions, however, seems unlikely.
Penn State finished tied for last in the conference with a 4-14 record after suffering its fourth consecutive defeat, 71-65 to then-No. 13 Michigan on Sunday. The Nittany Lions, who trailed by 19 points with just over nine minutes remaining, cut the deficit to four with 2:40 to go.
“It’s very easy when you’re in the situation like we were in to mail it in,” Chambers said. “As disappointed as I am, I’m excited about the late comeback.
“We are playing with house money. No one expects us to win. (I told the team) to go out there and play fearless, carefree and just compete. And then just see what happens. There is no question we could win four games in a row. We have to take it one game at a time.”
Penn State will likely need a big game from junior Tim Frazier if it hopes to knock off the Hoosiers. Frazier, an All-Big Ten first team pick by the media, is averaging a league-high 6.3 assists and is second in scoring (18.6 ppg).
Slowing down Cody Zeller, named Big Ten freshman of the year by the league’s coaches, could also be key. The Hoosiers are 21-2 when he shoots over 50.0 percent from the floor and 3-5 when he doesn’t.
Zeller leads the Big Ten and ranks fourth in the country with a 63.5 field-goal percentage.