If Nebraska is the worst team in the Big Ten, this is going to be an interesting winter for Indiana.
A 17 point favorite playing at home, the Hoosiers struggled to gain separation from the Cornhuskers and were eventually forced into overtime before pulling out a 96-90 win.
Now the Hoosiers will have a chance to rest their bodies, take final exams, and have the good fortune of addressing what went wrong — after a win.
Indiana (10-1, 1-1) will have the week off before traveling up to Indianapolis to face Notre Dame at the Crossroads Classic next Saturday.
The Hoosiers started quick, jumping out to a 13-4 lead to open game, capped off by an alley-oop dunk from Justin Smith at the 16:57 mark in the first half that triggered a Nebraska timeout. It looked like IU might cruise to victory.
But Nebraska had the right adjustments out of the timeout, and the Huskers had the lead less than three minutes later. Neither team would lead by more than eight the rest of the way as the battle between IU’s size and Nebraska’s speed went back and forth all night.
The Hoosiers opened the overtime period by scoring the first six points and triggering a Nebraska timeout with 3:09 left as sophomore guard Rob Phinisee hit a 3-pointer.
Ultimately size won out, as IU’s ability to win this game was decided by the rebounding margin.
Indiana outrebounded Nebraska 54-31, and its 54 rebounds marks the most for IU in the Archie Miller era.
“Our team in general embraced the glass, did a great job rebounding. It was one of the keys to our game in playing them. We thought we could get on the glass,” Miller said after the game.
The 96 points scored by IU is the most against a Big Ten opponent since the 2016-17 season when the Hoosiers scored 110 against Penn State in triple overtime.
While the points were good, how Indiana got them might not be something they can repeat in the Big Ten against bigger and better teams.
One of the adjustments that Nebraska made was a switch to a zone defense. That forced IU into more three-point shots than they would like to take (25), and the Hoosiers only converted on 20 percent from distance, and just 1-of-10 in the second half.
Indiana is no doubt going to see more teams force them to knock down perimeter shots.
“We’re going to have to shoot the ball better; make no mistake about that. We have some guys wide open that need to step up and make them,” Miller said.
While the shots weren’t falling from the perimeter, IU used its major size advantage to dominate the offensive glass and draw fouls. Indiana had 19 offensive rebounds and attempted 38 shots from the foul line, making 27 (71.1 percent).
“A ton of free throw attempts which saved us in a night where we weren’t very confident shooting the ball or just didn’t go down a ton,” Miller said.
When it counted most in overtime, the IU offense got the job done. The Hoosiers made 5-of-7 shots and committed no turnovers in the extra session.
Let’s face it, a small, quick guard oriented team is going to be a tough cover for Indiana’s big roster. Especially as they continue to suffer injuries in their four scholarship guard backcourt.
Nebraska played a fast, downhill style with four guards that was more akin to a mid-major like Louisiana Tech, and just like their second half against the Bulldogs a couple weeks ago, the approach gave IU fits.
“Their guards were as good as any I’ve seen in a while,” Miller said. “They were absolutely four steps faster than us, and we could not keep them in front all night long and just created a real problem for us. Couldn’t get sort of our bearings defensively throughout the course of the game.”
While most Big Ten teams won’t put a rotation that small on the floor, Indiana’s inability to keep the ball in front of them was concerning.
“We can’t guard the ball,” Miller said. “Guard your man. Keep it as simple as that right now. We’re getting picked on on the bounce. And those guys really exposed us to start the game.”
Nebraska put all five on the perimeter to space out Indiana’s help, and once things broke down on the ball, the seas parted. Looking forward to matchups against the likes of Cassius Winston and Anthony Cowan, the Hoosiers need to figure things out fast.
Miller referred to his defense being “shredded” in their two Big Ten games, although they did play well against UConn in between the two league contests.
“Our guard play right now, defensively, isn’t very good on the other teams’ guys. And I would say just in general tonight we were very spaced out, very man conscious, not very good from a positioning standpoint, Miller said.
“And comparably to how hard we played and what we had to do on Tuesday (against UConn), we were five steps too slow. Maybe that has a lot to do with the trip, but there’s not a whole lot of excuses when it comes down to it. We have to get a lot better guarding the ball and we’ve shown we can be better.”
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Joey Brunk* (C+) Not a lot of good matchups for Brunk in this one, but he took advantage in the paint and on the glass. But with four turnovers in just 17 minutes, Brunk has to be much steadier taking care of the ball.
- Justin Smith* (B) Smith doesn’t get a lot of double/doubles, but he got there with 16 points and 10 rebounds. For the most part Smith played to his strengths and played a key role in helping IU pull this one out.
- Trayce Jackson-Davis* (A-) He won’t see many more games where he has such a size and athleticism advantage in the paint, but Jackson-Davis took full advantage. With career highs in both points and rebounds, plus three blocks, Jackson-Davis was a force, especially in the second half alone where he had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
- Devonte Green (C)* Green played just 11 minutes and left the game with an injury after a choppy effort. “I’m not sure where he’s at,” Miller said. “I asked him what was wrong with him. He said his Achilles was bothering him. I’m not sure how serious yet. He’ll have to get a ton of treatment. If he can’t go, we’ll be ready with the other three guys.”
- Al Durham* (C+) Durham struggled with Nebraska’s quick guards and ultimately fouled out. He gave the Hoosiers 14 points and 3 assists, but defensively Durham will need to find another level with plenty of tough covers ahead.
- Rob Phinisee (A-) With Green and Durham out, Phinisee stepped up and saved Indiana. With 7 of his 16 points coming in the overtime, 4 assists on just 1 turnover, and IU’s lone guard that was able to be impactful defending on the perimeter, Phinisee’s value on this night could not have been more clear. Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg called him “the heart and soul in this thing with that team.” With a week off, the sophomore point guard might finally be 100 percent by next Saturday.
- Armaan Franklin (C) If he could only find his shot. Franklin continues to do plenty of positive things on the offensive end, but he is now shooting just 32.7 percent overall and 14.8 percent from three on the season.
- De’Ron Davis (B-) Not a game with matchups that were favorable for Davis as he played just 7 minutes.
- Jerome Hunter (C+) Similar to Franklin, Hunter is doing a lot of good things, but until he finds his shot he isn’t a major asset on the offensive end of the floor.
- Race Thompson (B-) Thompson once again was strong on the glass with 4 rebounds in 9 minutes, but he has to improve finishing around the basket.
- Damezi Anderson (B) Yes he was 0-for-4 from the field, but Anderson hit clutch free throws and was strong on the glass. He gave his team a big lift in overtime when he broke up a transition pass for a steal.
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