INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana had no business beating Notre Dame on Saturday.
Not when you compared the Hoosiers' starting five to the Irish's. Not when Indiana had 16 turnovers to Notre Dame's nine. Not when Notre Dame's dynamic duo of Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell combined for 44 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists and four steals. Not when IU had few made free throws, more fouls and five fewer steals.
Not when Indiana, a 5-5 squad at the start of the day and lacking a victory against a projected NCAA Tournament team, trailed by eight points with 3½ minutes remaining. Not when Farrell found Austin Torres on a roll to the low post in a tie game with two seconds remaining. But Torres, who has yet to make a foul shot this season, clanked both freebies with 0.8 to go.
Even still, Indiana wasn't meant to win this game. Not when Juwan Morgan missed a foul shot, down 77-76 with 11 seconds to go in OT, the carom making its move toward Colson, a preseason All-America honoree. Not then and there for IU, not when it's Colson vs. Zach McRoberts, an Indiana junior tweener averaging eight minutes.
But, surprisingly, McRoberts beat Colson for the board and, because he did, Indiana beat out Notre Dame for the victory at the seventh edition of the renewed Crossroads Classic. McRoberts' offensive rebound and subsequent dish to a wide-open Morgan on a chaotic play gave Indiana the lead with 10 seconds remaining.
"The minutes that Zach gave were incredible," Morgan said. "His defense on ball, off ball, I think he got two or three times where he was just in the right spot for helping guys, got a few turnovers for them. Just when he came off, I was like 'Dang, I just missed it.' Then I saw Zach got it, and I just ran off. I was just hoping he saw me, and he did."
The Hoosiers held on, riding the back of a monstrous 34-point, 11-rebound MVP showing by Morgan, and escaped with an 80-77 win -- and the biggest victory of Archie Miller's youthful tenure as Hoosiers coach.
"Winner," Miller said of McRoberts. "Tremendous effort all game long. Playing really, really hard. He's an important piece to what we're doing right now. Like I said, you don't have to score a lot of points to be a terrific teammate, to impact the game."
Miller's team was tough, opportunistic, level-headed and tactically coached throughout the second half and overtime. IU fans, as they always do, overwhelmed all other fan bases (Notre Dame, Butler, Purdue) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Those clad in crimson and cream witnessed what could ultimately become the first of so many huge, meaningful wins in Miller's career.
But he'll never have another one like this one, because this one was the first one. The first big one. The first at his first Crossroads Classic. The first victory against a team from Indiana. This is why Indiana brought Miller on board. The Hoosiers are only 6-5, but this is a victory that will ring into the new year and serve as the first stepping stone of what could, perhaps, wind up as a decades-long journey for Miller and the Hoosiers.
"Feel like we earned it," Miller told CBS Sports. "There's a lot of plays in the game that were 50-50 -- you know, tough calls, turnovers, missed shots."
Miller said they earned it, but really, they stole it. And those wins, the ones that are pilfered, are usually the most thrilling. Colson's heave at the end of overtime from beyond halfcourt rattled around the iron, giving a poetic period to a heart-palpitating game. Indiana fans have been waiting a long time for a victory to taste that good.
"The great thing for us and our fans, number one, they deserve it," Miller said. "They're with us right now, through the all the good and bad, which is a great sign and is great for our players."
This will continue to be an interesting season for Indiana because the roster is comprised mostly of players recruited by former Hoosiers coach Tom Crean and his staff. Miller is working with personnel he's adapting to. It has led to fits and starts, as Indiana has not had a victory close to this good so far. Miller wasn't surprised by this outcome, though.
"We've been getting better, but when you're playing the likes of Duke, at Michigan, Iowa, at Louisville, you're not going to have room for error," he told CBS Sports. "Some of the improvement we're seeing on film doesn't directly correlate with a win, but today it did."
Notre Dame's a hard team to speed up. Mike Brey has his veterans playing at the style and tempo they want to play it. If you're an opponent, you have to make Farrell earn everything. The stat that won't show up in the box: contested passes. Hands, legs, hips and butts in lanes. Farrell was not able to zip those clean-and-easy passes on Saturday the way he has vs. most other teams this season. That's scouting, that's coaching. That's Miller. And it also shows you how good Farrell is that he still finished with nine assists and 15 points despite being disrupted most of the afternoon.
One victory will not define this team's season, nor should it, but it has to be one Miller won't ever forget. Toppling a well-oiled offense and beating a team that could wind up being Final Four-good by the time we get to March. This has been a sprint to start the season for Indiana, which is facing its fourth 48-hour two-game turnaround of the season. The Hoosiers will play Fort Wayne on Monday; the horrors of last season's road loss to the Mastodons no doubt are waiting to be exorcised.
"I think the great thing is to get back to work in the practice gym tomorrow and figure out how we can recover, number one," Miller said, "and then, B, come off the clouds."
The Hoosiers deserve to enjoy this one a little longer than normal, though. Big wins will be hard to come by in Miller's first season, and most who follow the team know it.
"Keep chopping at it," Miller said. "You've got to hammer that rock every day until it breaks."
Saturday was the biggest clink yet. The rock has a crack, and Miller's grip is just starting to find a groove.