With 14 minutes remaining Indiana was in yet another tight game with yet another mid-major, leading only 51-47. Eastern Michigan is an above average mid-major that the Hoosiers would need to take seriously, but the fact remains — if this team was going to show progress it was going to have to put teams like this away.
The game had been tight up to this point. Indiana had a brief 9 point lead early in the second half only to see Eastern Michigan cut it back down to one. Indiana’s defense was getting gashed with dribble penetration, including a segment where Eastern Michigan drew 3 fouls in only 14 seconds of game time. It was becoming clear that Indiana’s offense was going to have to carry the day if the Hoosiers were going to put away the Eagles. The offense had been efficient and clean for most of the night against a tough Eagles’ zone.
Enter Josh Newkirk. Coming off a nice game Wednesday against Arkansas State, where he hit 3-4 from the field and had 2 assists on no turnovers, it looked like Newkirk might be rounding into form after a sluggish start to the season. But tonight was a new level for the senior guard: 17 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a block — all on 6 of 10 shooting with only 1 turnover. Perhaps more than all of that, Newkirk looked confident. He wasn’t rushing or forcing shots, but he was taking shots that a less confident player might pass up. And he was hitting them. None of his shots were more important than the game’s turning point:
- At 13:52, with Indiana up 51-47, Newkirk hit a 3-pointer. IU 54-47.
- At 12:46 Newkirk gets an assist on a Robert Johnson jumper. IU 56-47.
- At 11:30 Newkirk hits another 3-pointer. IU 61-50.
Sprinkled into this stretch was the steal by Josh Smith and his ensuing highlight reel dunk. That forced an Eastern Michigan timeout. But rather than allowing Eagles to regroup and mount a comeback, Newkirk hit his second 3-pointer of the game and put them away for good. Eastern Michigan would never get closer as the Hoosiers cruised to victory.
[photo credit – Chris Howell, The Herald-Times via AP]