Maybe its what they've been through that created sequences like those that played out in a striped venue in Bloomington on Tuesday night.
Perhaps its the losing for three years following the bottoming out of the program or even the way they had a bit of a slip in the middle of the conference season that rose their level of toughness.
Whatever the explanation, on Tuesday night something was different.
Its in the way Victor Oladipo fought to the hoop for a bucket, tweaked an ankle, then hustled down the court to defend a shot. Also it was the way Christian Watford got a rebound off a missed free throw and then hit a three after another offensive rebound by Cody Zeller.
Either way, the Big Ten's resident tough guy came to Assembly Hall on Wednesday night and left with crimson bruises.
"I think our mindset is at a whole different level right now," said senior Verdell Jones III after the Hoosiers made seemingly easy work of 5th-ranked Michigan State in a 70-55 win-and their play is reflective.
indiana fell behind 4-1 in the first two minutes of the game and then never trailed again. In fact the closest the Spartans got to a rally in the second half was six behind, and the Hoosiers rebutted everyone of those game-saving runs.
"Our team responded as we kept saying today, it's not hit or be hit, it's hit or be out," said Indiana head coach Tom Crean. "This is a game where you've got to be in the mix because they set the tone and the standard for toughness in our league."
It might have seemed the other way around for the better part of Tuesday night when the Hoosiers matched the rugged Spartans front court blow-by-blow. In the first half they outrebounded Michigan State by five and was a big reason for Indiana's 14-point halftime lead.
Christian Watford led the team with 14 boards, six of which he had in that first half to go along with five of his ten points.
"We just kept attacking, that was the main thing," said Watford of the Hoosiers' attitude towards the Spartans-whom Indiana ended up rebounding in the end 31-30. "We didn't want to go into a stall-type of basketball, we just wanted to keep our foot on the pedal."
Offensively the Hoosiers did so, shooting 50 percent from the field in the first half to grab the big lead then following it up by hitting 12-of-26 from the floor in the second half.
It only improved in the final 7:21 after Michigan State cut the deficit down to six, as the Hoosiers completed the game on a 17-8 run to put the clamps on the upset.
"We had confidence coming into the game that we could do this," said freshman forward Cody Zeller, who led the team with 18 points. "None of us were surprised, it was just getting better each day."
it's produced a season that continues to get better and more historic by the game. The win over the 5th-ranked Spartans was their third over a Top 5 team for the second time in school history, and the first time it's been done in the regular season alone
The undefeated 1975-1976 Hoosiers defeated two Top-Five teams during the scheduled slate and then one in the NCAA Tournament.
Crean was so proud of the accomplishment, he grabbed the microphone after the victory to tell the sellout Assembly Hall crowd himself.
"That's remarkable considering where we have been," said Crean of the accomplishment. "The think I'm most proud of with this team, as we continue to get better, is everyone of them has earned it."
On Tuesday, it was done with a little toughness and tenacity that put some red paint on the green machine.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun