Did Indiana find something on Saturday against Ohio State?
The Hoosiers were by no means perfect in their 66-54 win over the Buckeyes. IU head coach Archie Miller acknowledged that. But he also highlighted the one thing that stood out the most about Indiana’s performance.
“We could have probably done some things better, but I thought guys just played hard,” Miller said.
Playing hard. The concept is simple enough, but for whatever reason Miller’s Indiana teams have struggled to consistently bring and maintain intensity.
It was just one game, but with Indiana playing in front of dozens of former players and managers, the effort level made a big impression.
IU radio voice Don Fischer went to the program reunion at Cook Hall after the game, and the Hoosiers’ intensity level was a hot topic.
“I can’t tell you how many people came up to me and mentioned the energy level that the team played with,” Fischer said on Indiana Sports Beat on Monday.
Now the question is, can Indiana sustain that energy level on the road in a conference where teams are 6-33 away from home as of this writing.
IU’s inability to consistently play hard and bring an edge has led to blowout losses in their only two true road games. In fact, the Hoosiers trailed by as much as 30 points in both away losses at Maryland and Wisconsin.
If Indiana is going to secure Big Ten road wins this season, they are going to have to pack up that effort against Ohio State and bring it with them.
Part of the reason why Big Ten home teams are performing so well is obvious. The energy of the crowd fuels the team.
If Indiana found something against OSU, you hope it was more organic than crowd induced because the Hoosiers won’t have that advantage this week.
“They have to go on the road and generate their own energy, and their own effort,” Fischer said. “It won’t be a crowd that influences that, it will be themselves. That’s what I’m hoping this team has finally figured out, that we can win no matter where we go and play if we play with that kind of effort and that kind of energy.”
IU travels for two away games this week, at Rutgers on Wednesday and at Nebraska on Saturday. Those are two winnable games — if they bring and maintain intensity for 40 minutes.
Former Indiana player and color commentator Todd Leary believes that what we saw on Saturday against Ohio State is something that can translate on the road.
“I think this can travel on the road (Indiana’s performance against Ohio State),” Leary said. “Most of it was effort and playing hard, and scrapping and getting lose balls. It was the stuff that is repeatable.”
Miller referred to Indiana’s play on the defensive end of the floor against Ohio State as his team’s best performance of the season, and that is something else that the Hoosiers should be able to take with them away from Bloomington.
“If you can get the team to understand that and scrap and fight and play hard and you go into another team’s venue and smack ’em in the mouth right off the bat, and I don’t mean by making shots, I mean by playing physical and playing hard and proving to them how hard it’s going to be to score, that’s why I say the ceiling for Indiana is so high,” Leary said.
Even the underpinnings of Indiana’s offense should travel well in theory.
With the Hoosiers focused on paint touches, offensive rebounds and getting to the foul line, Indiana should be able to maintain some measure of continuity away from home.
But while IU’s offense did flash potential against the Buckeyes, that part of their game isn’t a strength right now. And that’s okay.
“Your going to have ups and downs on the offensive end of the floor (on the road), but defensively is mostly just effort, and being in the right position. That travels. Defense travels. Offense sometimes doesn’t travel all that well. But defense can travel because its mostly just effort,” Leary said.
Miller knows that success can be fleeting in the Big Ten.
A pair of road losses at Rutgers and Nebraska this week would make the win over Ohio State a distant memory rather than the start of something.
That’s why the third year Hoosier head coach isn’t satisfied with just one strong effort.
“We’ve just got to keep raising our level of intensity and we’ve got to stay with it, and I think this team has a chance,” Miller said. “We’ve got a great group, and I’m happy for them to be able to win today, but we’ve got to keep progressing.”
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