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Miller Kopp gives IU a needed spark against Rutgers

Miller Kopp has looked like a different player when facing Rutgers this season.

Kopp had his biggest individual game of the season, with five 3-pointers and 21 points, when Indiana fell to the Scarlet Knights in Piscataway. He was IU’s best source of offense that game, in an overall rough outing for the Hoosiers.

The senior was at it again Tuesday, with his best performance since that December evening. Kopp shot 6 for 9, including 4 for 6 from 3-point range, for 18 points, along with two assists, two steals, and a block. He led IU in plus/minus at +11, as the Hoosiers emerged with a 66-60 win, their first over Rutgers in nearly four years.

“He got good looks, and they didn’t get to him a lot of times in the zone when the ball was swung around. He was getting good looks, and he knocked them in and made them pay for it. Most teams that we play don’t give him very many good looks like that,” IU head coach Mike Woodson said. “He was pretty good defensively, too, tonight. He did a lot of good things defensively for us.”

Kopp doesn’t typically take on that much volume. This was his sixth game this year with nine or more field-goal attempts. He’s had nine games with three attempts or fewer.

He’s one of Indiana’s best outside shooters — Kopp is second on the team in 3-point percentage at 44.4, and he does that on a team-high 3.91 attempts per game. And he’s drawn a lot of defensive attention because of that.

Kopp and Woodson have previously attributed his quieter games to that pressure making it harder to get him open shots.

But in some cases, even when he has open looks, he doesn’t always capitalize. He sometimes dribbles out of open 3-pointers.

But that didn’t happen against Rutgers. He showed a confidence throughout the entire game that he sometimes only shows for smaller stretches of action. He came off screens to set himself up for shots. He put the ball on the floor to create looks for either himself or teammates. He generally moved with a purpose.

Kopp chalked all of that up to IU’s game plan for the Scarlet Knights.

“I knew coming into the game how their wings guard off the ball, and looking at last game’s film, how they guarded Trayce and finding where the gaps are in the defense,” Kopp said. “Especially when Trayce has the ball in the post, I’m always trying to move and get in his line of vision, and when we lock eyes, I know it’s coming. It’s just being super opportunistic — that’s all, really.”

The defense Woodson mentioned was noticeable, as well.

Just like on offense, Kopp can sometimes get lost in the mix defensively. He can get caught out of position at times, leaving a man open for an outside shot. He isn’t Indiana’s best defender.

And though IU may not be thrilled with its team 3-point defense against Rutgers on Tuesday, Kopp handled it well. He closed out on shooters very effectively, clogged up passing lanes, and showed great effort.

That, even more than his offensive night, is what Trayce Jackson-Davis praised.

“What really stood out to me was his effort on the defensive end of the floor, how he’s sitting down and he was guarding,” Jackson-Davis said. “He was really, really locked in on the defensive end, and when you’re playing like that on both sides of the ball, a player like him, he really impacts the game at a high level.”

Indiana needed everything it got out of Kopp on Tuesday. With an off-night in shooting for Jalen Hood-Schifino, Kopp served as the necessary second-fiddle to Jackson-Davis.

This type of scoring output has clearly been more an exception than the standard for Kopp. He, realistically, is among the tertiary options in IU’s offense, with guys like Trey Galloway, Tamar Bates, and Malik Reneau. Players who can step into key roles like this at times, and often, who can put IU over the top with a good night.

“We’ve got a lot of guys that are averaging about seven, eight, nine points a game. For me, I think that’s good for our ballclub where you just can’t load up on one guy,” Woodson said. “We know Trayce is the guy. But we’ve got guys around him that are able to make shots and that was the whole thing coming into this season and the work that we put in this summer and shooting a lot.”

IU feels like a different team when Kopp is producing like this. Kopp feels like a different player when he has games like this.

But Woodson said the Hoosiers don’t need the senior to shoot a high volume to play his role well.

Miller, he doesn’t get a lot of shots but he’s efficient,” Woodson said. “He makes shots when he has to make them, and that’s huge for a team when you are trying to win.”