Has Indiana turned a corner at a critical moment late in the season?
Winners of three of four, IU has the look of a team that is figuring things out as March approaches. The Hoosiers picked up their fifth win this season over a ranked opponent at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Sunday with a 68-60 victory over No. 9 Penn State.
If Indiana (18-9, 8-8) truly is hitting its stride, it will have to prove it on the road as the Hoosiers leave Bloomington for two games this week. First up, IU will travel for a rivalry game on Thursday night against Purdue at West Lafayette. That game will tip at 7 p.m. ET.
Save for a ten minute stretch that spanned both halves and saw Penn State go on a 30-5 run, Indiana played some of their best basketball of the season. IU outscored PSU 63-30 for the other 30 minutes of the game.
“Just break the game up. We play the game in 10 four-minute battles, 10 four-minute rounds like a fight, IU head coach Archie Miller said.
“But the fight is a full 10 rounds. And at the end of the day in basketball there’s going to be swings. You have to find a way to hang in there and weather it. And you have to find a way to make a couple runs.”
While they blew a 37-18 first half lead about as fast as you can, Indiana did indeed hang in there.
After so much talk about this IU team lacking toughness and an edge, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Hoosiers fold when Penn State went up 48-42 with just over 12 minutes to go in the game. Instead, they responded with a 13-0 run.
And when the Nittany Lions pulled back to within 57-54 with 4 minutes to go, it felt like the Hoosiers might let one slip away.
But this team seems to be developing a much needed resiliency, and nine made free throws in the final 1:50 of the game demonstrated just that.
“You have to be willing to fight it all the way until the ninth and the tenth round. You’ve got to be finishers, Miller said.
“And we finished this week. We didn’t finish here a few other times, maybe last week, but we’ve been able to finish here the last couple games.”
A major key to the game was the performance of Indiana’s bench, which outscored PSU 25-12.
After committing 17 turnovers in the first meeting at Penn State, the Hoosiers gave it up just 12 times on Sunday against a good, aggressive defense. Over the last three games IU is averaging less than 10 turnovers per contest.
“I really think we’ve taken care of the ball a lot better, especially our guards have been really good,” Indiana freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said.
Credit – IU Athletics
The guards have also been focused on getting the ball into the paint, especially to Jackson-Davis who had 17 field goal attempts on the day.
“I think that we have been playing inside/out here recently,” Jackson-Davis said. “I think that’s been a big part, too, getting open shots for our shooters when they double down. So I think that was the biggest thing, honestly.”
The lower turnover counts have helped IU to maximize possessions offensively.
With just seven assists and a 42.6 percent shooting day from the field, there was nothing particularly impressive about Indiana’s offense.
But just simply taking care of the ball goes a long way with this team when they are playing at a high level on the other end of the floor.
“We’ve been taking care of the ball a little better,” Miller said, And that extended into the final minutes when the Nittany Lions used a full court press to try to mount a comeback.
Indiana did commit one turnover against the pressure, but the Hoosiers otherwise navigated it well and converted at the foul line.
“The last two minutes we learned our lesson from the Maryland game,” Miller said. “We were able to handle the press and get it and make some free throws.”
While IU allowed three points per minute during that 10 minute stretch that saw Penn State take the second half lead, the Hoosiers were elite defensively the rest of the way. The Nittany Lions only scored around a point per minute for the other 30 minutes.
After a stout defensive effort on the road at Minnesota, Miller sees a group that is starting to understand the effort level that is required to consistently get stops.
The third year head coach knows that if Indiana wants to play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years, it will be the defense that gets them there.
“I think collectively we’re starting to know and understand that the identity of the team has to be defense first,” Miller said.
For the eleventh time this year IU held an opponent to under .9 points per possessions, and the Hoosiers moved to 10-1 in those contests.
For Miller’s pack-line scheme, an effective defense starts and stops with pressure on the basketball.
“The key all week, to be honest with you, was to be great on the ball,” Miller said. “And our ball pressure was really good in the first half. 0-for-6 (by Penn State in the first half) from three is huge. Not only (IU) turning it over (only) five times and not giving them a lot of run-outs, but we also did a really good job pressuring and covering the line early so they didn’t make a ton of threes.”
Penn State was missing three-point sharpshooter and second leading scorer Myreon Jones. That fact cannot be overlooked. But this was still a second straight high level defensive effort — save for PSU’s 30-5 run during which IU seemed to relax.
“Second half, first eight minutes of the second half we were on our heels,” Miller said. “We couldn’t stop the ball. We couldn’t guard the ball. He had a lot to do with it with his matchups and what he was doing with big-on-big switches and whatnot..”
But unlike a week ago at Michigan, Indiana was able to find answers and slow down the Nittany Lion run. For the game PSU shot only 41.5 percent and committed 15 turnovers after giving it up just 7 times in the first meeting.
The end product is something that Miller is pleased with.
“Defensively all week long, I thought we played as solid as we have defensively,” Miller said. “In the course of two games, you’re going to have some tough times. You’re going to have some things that go wrong. But we fought and finished both games really well defensively.”
Indiana’s defense held Penn State to only two 3-pointers made, which is the lowest the Hoosiers have allowed this season and for the second-straight game, IU has allowed the lowest efficiency on 3-point shooting (2-or-14, 14.3 percent) of the season.
OTHER GAME COVERAGE
- Final box score and specialty stats
- Archie Miller and IU players post-game
- Pat Chambers post-game
- Leary and Coyle post-game show
(players with meaningful minutes)
- Joey Brunk* (B-) Brunk has been relegated to a starter in name only role, and foul trouble didn’t help that cause on Sunday.
- Justin Smith* (A-) Smith was a major factor in the last eight minutes on the defensive end and on the glass. He converted at the foul line reasonably well, and Smith continues to play within himself offensively.
- Trayce Jackson-Davis* (A-) The freshman big man didn’t always force the issue when he looked to score on the block, and that resulted in several misses in the paint. But Jackson-Davis delivered yet another double-double in a physical Big Ten game.
- Al Durham* (B) The junior guard struggled with turnovers, especially late, but Durham has been shooting the ball better in recent games and his defense was much improved in this one.
- Rob Phinisee* (B+) While he didn’t score from the field, Phinisee was a major factor defensively with five steals, was steady late against pressure, and was strong at the foul line. He also added five rebounds from his point guard spot.
- Jerome Hunter (B+) Hunter had a relatively quiet day, but he was sturdy on the defensive end. His three-pointer got the IU second half rally going after the Hoosiers had fallen behind 48-42.
- Devonte Green (B+) It looked like Green might have knocked out PSU in the first half with another barrage of three-pointers. He cooled off but continued to make an impact with defense and facilitating on the offensive end.
- De’Ron Davis (B) Davis is fouling too much but since he doesn’t play a lot of minutes that isn’t a major problem beyond contributing to putting teams in the bonus. The senior big man is giving IU good minutes. He made a clutch late basket and continues to be a good passer.
- Race Thompson (A-) Indiana needed a tough guy on their roster and Thompson is filling that role. The redshirt sophomore is defending and rebounding at a high level, and his offensive game is evolving — save for an 0-for-3 day at the free throw line.
- Armaan Franklin also appeared in the game.
NOTE: Class of 2021 5-star recruiting target Khristian Lander was in attendance along with class of 2020 signee Anthony Leal and class of 2022 point guard Braden Smith.
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