At least for now.
They say a win is a win — a “Big Ten win” as IU head coach Archie Miller called his team’s 66-62 victory against Northwestern on Wednesday night. There is no arguing any of that. Indiana did indeed win.
But disturbing is disturbing, and that might be the best word to describe the current state of the IU basketball program. Things change over the course of a season, and right now IU can get to work on improving after a win, pulling one out in Bloomington against a team that ostensibly is the Big Ten’s worst.
Make no mistake about, Indiana has a long, long way to go, and it has to navigate a brutal schedule to get there. This thing could get ugly if Miller doesn’t find answers. But for now, a win is a win.
The Hoosiers (12-3, 2-2) will host Ohio State on Saturday at noon in Bloomington.
All things considered, the Hoosiers may not have even been C- “good,” but give them the benefit of the doubt since they found a way to win late.
Give the crowd an assist too.
“We were at home,” Miller said. “It helps. You got that kind of crowd behind you, just waiting to burst. You give them a few things to cheer about they’ll help you. They really want to help you. Don’t give them anything to cheer about, they’ll obviously sit there.
“But we need to do a little more for them because obviously when they get rolling it’s a different place in there. And we need to do that. Our guys need to play more inspired and do more.”
The hesitancy from the crowd stemmed from an unsteady performance from IU. The Hoosiers were up 29-19 in the first half only to fall behind by halftime. They trailed by 10 midway through the second half, only to rally late and eventually edge out the Wildcats in the final minutes.
The story of the game might just have been who wasn’t in for IU down the stretch when the Hoosiers appeared to play harder on the defensive end. Miller made several allusions to shrinking the rotation in the post-game press conference, and it sounds like he only intends to play the guys that are buying in.
“The number (of players in the rotation) has to shrink for some guys to get a jolt,” Miller said.
A lot of the same problems that have plagued Indiana resurfaced on Wednesday night. Poor ball movement, poor assist to turnover ratio, poor shooting. That IU was able to pull this one out is more a testament to late defense and an inferior opponent than anything the Hoosiers did on the offensive end.
Miller still sees a lot of standing around, and a lot of dribbling.
“We’re not moving the ball right now,” Miller said. “We don’t move the ball as a good basketball team, and we’re fighting to pass.
“When you’re fighting to pass and everybody on the team and on the bench and in the locker room knows it’s the thing we need to do better and we’re talking about it a lot every day and the ball won’t move, people look around and say why isn’t that happening? We just worked on it.”
On the plus side, Indiana was able to get back to doing what they do best — drawing fouls. The Hoosiers attempted 30 free throws for the game including 19 in the second half. Better still, IU made 23 of those attempts, good for 76.7 percent.
Indiana got the ball to their best player in good positions, and Trayce Jackson-Davis was able to convert.
“Trayce got some good, deep rim runs, and Rob and Al and even Armaan fed him for deep catches; he was able to get to the line,” Miller said.
Miller knows that getting to the line is the make-or-break aspect of his team’s struggling offense.
“I was proud of the guys going to a line,” he said. “That’s a big deal for our team, getting fouled. We were able to get fouled in both halves. And we went to the line tonight and obviously needed every bit of it. But guys went to the line and made them tonight. Al was big and Trayce was big in terms of making free throws.”
Indiana also outrebounded Northwestern 40-29, including 15-5 on the offensive end. The Hoosiers had only 11 assists against 16 turnovers.
For the game’s first 30 minutes, things were too easy for Northwestern. Whether it was their offense generating open looks on the perimeter, or finding cutters to the basket, the Wildcats were in large part seeming to have their way.
Junior co-captain Al Durham attributed the lackluster effort to a lack of pressure on the ball and help that was slow to arrive.
“Pressure, pressure on the passer,” Durham said of the early defensive struggles, and what changed in the second half. “A lot of help defense and just getting over the screen and beating the man to where they get the layups at, like in the post, around the block area. So, we were just beating them there and picking up the pressure on it, so they didn’t have clear vision to throw the pass. I feel like just the pressure and help defense really picked up at that time.”
Unable to get his team to play with the requisite intensity, Miller went with full court pressure in the second half in an attempt to create more effort.
“Picking up full court at that point in time was necessary,” Miller said. “We needed to jump-start ourselves and get ourselves going.”
It worked. IU held Northwestern to just four field goals over the final 12 minutes of the game, including a nearly seven minute stretch without a point.
The better effort down the stretch created mistakes by Northwestern, who ended up with an above average turnover total (14) on the night, including eight in the second half.
Miller was pleased with his three guards that were in the game in the final 12 minutes.
“I thought Al, Armaan were in there and Rob was in there,” Miller said. “They did a good job, started to apply the pressure, sort of slowed them down a little bit. We were trying to be as aggressive as we could on the ball screens and whatnot. We were active, got some deflected balls. They just weren’t moving it as easy as they did in the first 30 minutes.”
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
- Final box score and specialty stats
- Archie Miller and IU players post-game
- Chris Collins post-game comments
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Joey Brunk* (B-) He didn’t convert well from the field, but Brunk’s effort is a big story right now. He might be the only guy on the team consistently giving max effort. It isn’t often that you see a 6-foot-11 center dive out of bounds to save the ball. Brunk did that during the second half run, giving IU another possession, and they got points out of it. Brunk recorded his fourth straight game with double digit rebounds.
- Justin Smith* (C+) First half Justin or second half Justin? First half Justin had five turnovers. Second half Justin had 13 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals with no turnovers. Credit him for keeping his head up and pushing harder rather than sulking.
- Trayce Jackson-Davis* (B) The true freshman is doing his job, playing within himself, and delivering for Indiana. One area of improvement is better awareness in the paint, where Jackson-Davis can struggle at times to secure post entry passes.
- Devonte Green* (D) Green was forcing shots rather than finding teammates, and the fact that he didn’t play in the final 11 minutes really tells you all you need to know. He did add six rebounds and had no turnovers.
- Al Durham* (B) Miller was particularly pleased with Durham’s leadership. “I give Al a lot of credit tonight; he played like a leader tonight, did a really good job for us,” Miller said. Durham defended well, had 4 assists, but perhaps most important he put his head down and pushed the pace and drew fouls, making 11-of-12 from the line.
- Rob Phinisee (C) He is clearly still not himself in a lot of ways, but Phinisee was stout down the stretch.
- Jerome Hunter (C) You could feel a sense of relief when Hunter knocked down a three-pointer, and Miller continues to trust him in games during important stretches. But the breakout moment remains elusive.
- Armaan Franklin (C) The freshman played extensively in place of Green in the second half and gave good effort defensively despite another rough shooting night.
- Race Thompson, De’Ron Davis and Damezi Anderson also made brief appearances in the game.
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