To say the least, this 2018-19 Indiana basketball season has been bizarre. Nothing illustrates that better than a seven game losing streak immediately on the heels of a seven game winning streak.
Beyond that, the number of injuries suffered by this team is almost beyond comprehension.
But nothing was more bizarre or incomprehensible than the Hoosiers’ 79-75 overtime victory on Saturday night against No. 6 Michigan State. The win ended the seven game skid and came in a building where the Hoosiers had only won two other times in 30 years.
While the losing finally ended, the injuries did not, with senior co-captain Juwan Morgan missing the final 27 minutes with a shoulder injury. The loss of the All-Big Ten performer made the win in East Lansing all the more improbable.
Going into the game, it was becoming reasonable to wonder if IU would win another game this year. Now? Who knows. But whatever happens, it will surely be interesting with this team.
Indiana (13-9, 4-7) will now conclude Big Ten play with 6 of 9 at home. The Hoosiers return to action with a Thursday night game against Iowa at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
It would have been a real shame for Indiana to lose this game. Archie Miller touched on the recent struggles and what it meant to finally emerge victorious.
“It has been a long three weeks here, so it’s good to get that winning feeling again for the guys.”
The seven game losing streak was defined by IU giving up big runs. It didn’t happen against the Spartans. Their biggest run of the night was seven unanswered in the first half. Beyond that, Indiana always seemed to have the answer in this one.
Poor shot selection in the final possession of regulation and turnovers towards the end of overtime could have cost Indiana the game, but they managed to hang on.
Now the key will be finding a way to keep it going, and Miller sees hope —
“This is the stage you want to be on when you come to Indiana,” Miller said. “The way we practiced the last couple of days, the way we addressed the first half of the Big Ten season, I see we have the light at the end of the tunnel. … We looked like a different team.”
The Hoosiers had 11 total assists in the two preceding games against Michigan and Rutgers. Tonight, they had 21. Archie Miller attributed the improvement to passing —
“For the first time in a while we really shared the ball.”
The return of De’Ron Davis and Devonte Green was huge, especially in light of Morgan’s injury. With Davis and Green back, IU was able to find scoring beyond Morgan and Romeo Langford. The Hoosiers had five scorers in double figures on the night.
The saving grace on this night was Indiana finally having a big game from behind the three-point line. Miller saw a team that was being more unselfish and putting shooters in a better position —
“It’s just amazing when a guy makes an unselfish pass or the correct read on the drive or one more pass when a guy’s open, when he reads the ball screen and delivers it. It’s amazing how those balls goes in. It’s amazing how the ball doesn’t go in when there is just absolutely zero chemistry out there. The ball just does not move the way it is supposed to move. I think we’re a better shooting team than we shot.”
Going into the game Archie Miller said that the defense would have to lead the way going forward, and it certainly set the tone in this one. IU held the Spartans scoreless for more than six minutes as they turned a 9-6 deficit into a 13-9 lead. It was that early stout effort that provided the first glimpse into what was a energized effort.
The Hoosiers struggled at times with Michigan States’s transition offense, but for the most part IU sprinted back and forced MSU into a half court game. The Spartans managed just 14 fast break points on the night.
Nothing highlighted the energy more than IU’s performance on the glass. Michigan State came into the game No. 2 in the country in rebounding margin, and IU ended up with eight more in this game.
You have to factor in Michigan State’s woeful free throw shooting. The Spartans were 8 for 22 from behind the line. Obviously even a reasonable performance there would have likely resulted in a MSU win.
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
- Three keys, final box score, specialty stats
- Archie Miller and Al Durham post-game
- Tom Izzo post-game
- After the game with Todd Leary
? YESSIR! pic.twitter.com/9k2OaT8xW3
— Indiana Basketball (@IndianaMBB) February 3, 2019
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Juwan Morgan* (B+) Morgan was on his way to another big night before injuring his shoulder with seven minutes left in the first half.
- Justin Smith* (A-) With effort like this, Smith is a left hand away from being an NBA caliber talent. Archie Miller said “he battled all night long,” and that was literally down to the final minute with two game saving blocks. He also appeared to be more vocal from a leadership perspective.
- Romeo Langford* (B+) Although he got off to a slow start, Langford was big down the stretch including a game tying drive to the basket to force overtime. He was late on a couple defensive assignments, but overall he was good on both ends.
- Rob Phinisee* (C) It was a strange night for Phinisee. He had the tough task of guarding Cassius Winston and he fouled out in just 18 minutes while attempting just one shot.
- Al Durham* (B+) Durham hit several big shots and gave great effort on both ends of the floor. He has become the most reliable three-point shooter on this team. He also had an injury scare with his hand but he was able to return and did not seem to be effected by it.
- De’Ron Davis (A) Davis wasn’t even expected to play, and it was difficult to imagine that he could perform at the level he did for 25 minutes. His energy looked great, and he was a huge asset banging against MSU’s big men. Indiana quite simply cannot win this game without him, and if the season turns around, he will be a big reason why.
- Devonte Green (A-) You have to consider the tough situation for Green — the pressure of coming off a suspension and dealing with Cassius Winston. Yes he had four turnovers, but Green made several big plays and gave IU a much needed lift from long range.
- Evan Fitzner (B) It is amazing how much better it feels like Fitzner played when he makes just one three-pointer — his first since December. He was more active on defense too.
- Jake Forrester (B+) Those were really strong minutes from Forrester, providing a much needed boost when Morgan went down. He appears to have passed Moore in the rotation and four rebounds and a block in eight minutes was just what was needed. He had a head scratching moment late going for a steal. But that was just a kid trying to make a play. He will learn and IU survived.
- Damezi Anderson and Clifton Moore also appeared briefly in this game.
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