By Dustin Dopirak —
There wasn’t much of a theme for Indiana to take out of its past week other than that life in the Big Ten is rough and includes wild swings between victory and defeat.
The Hoosiers won their most important game of the season on Thursday night, knocking off No. 4 Iowa, then came home to lose to a Rutgers team that hadn’t won in three weeks. Archie Miller said Sunday afternoon and again on his radio show Monday evening that the Hoosiers maintained their intensity after the win, practiced exactly how he wanted them to practice, but simply lost to a Rutgers team that he believes is better than their record and that played tougher than his team did.
“It’s just a devastating grind that you’re on,” Miller said. “Because every win makes you feel like you’re going to be a champion and every one that you lose makes you feel like you may not win another one. There’s just the up and down. I think that the team that hangs in there the best, the one that stays with the process is going to do the best.”
So taking a step back from the win and the loss, Miller viewed the biggest development of the week as the expanded contributions from the bench, in particular players whose minutes had been limited so far.
Against Iowa, freshman forward Jordan Geronimo played 10 minutes, scored seven points on 3-of-3 shooting, and defended All-American Luka Garza for extended stretches while starting forwards Race Thompson and Trayce Jackson-Davis were stuck on the bench with four fouls a little over midway through the second half.
On Sunday against Rutgers, the Hoosiers got a pair of 3-pointers in 11 minutes from freshman point guard Khristian Lander, who had struggled to make shots from anywhere. They also got nine points from redshirt sophomore Jerome Hunter and three rebounds and three assists from guard Anthony Leal, who got double-digit minutes in both games with fellow freshman and former Indiana Elite teammate Trey Galloway on the bench with a back injury.
“Sometimes you don’t realize, the freshness of guys, the energy level and the value of just playing very hard, even of that for a short amount of time,” Miller said. “How much that can change the complexion of a game and how much confidence it gives other guys on your team when other guys are stepping up and playing.”
Miller has been reluctant to go to his bench some points this season, especially early when it appeared that the freshmen who weren’t playing much were struggling to grasp the defense. However, Miller has declared in recent weeks an intent to lengthen the rotation, and he’s seen players quickly gain confidence.
“Our staff has done a really good job of staying on the guys who aren’t playing with extra lifts,” Miller said. “Extra work, extra skill, shooting, you name it. You have to do that when guys aren’t playing as many minutes. And you have to just preach that if you stay with it, good things will happen.”
The Hoosiers aren’t exactly certain what form their rotation will take the next time they take the floor. They were not scheduled to have a mid-week game this week, and their weekend opened up when Michigan put all of its programs on pause due to COVID cases including several that showed the presence of the British variant of the virus. The Hoosiers don’t have a game scheduled until they host Illinois on Feb. 2, and Miller said he does not expect attempts to add someone to the schedule to be successful.
The time off should help the Hoosiers add Galloway back into the fold and it should also help Indiana bring sophomore guard Armaan Franklin back to full strength. Franklin aggravated the left ankle sprain Sunday that cost him two games earlier this month. Miller said neither player would be available if the Hoosiers had a game this week, but they might both be able to return by then.
Indiana will certainly be deeper if they can play, but will still have options if they can’t.
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