A new coach, an injury-stricken roster that was lacking to begin with, and dispiriting absence of team morale has quickly transformed the 2017-18 season into an upside-down emotional roller coaster for the Hoosiers. For coaching staff, players, and fans equally, it’s been a bumpy ride. Losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne had the inconsistent Indiana team turned upside down. The glimpses of greatness and effort seem to come at times when they’re most needed to turn them around. Coming off the loss at Wisconsin last week, a gutsy win at Minnesota on Saturday did just that.
Another conference victory for the Hoosiers wasn’t supposed to happen, though. Indiana was a two-point underdog against Penn State in their own house. The unpredictable happens at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, though, and Hoosiers’ victory over the Nittany Lions serves as proof. Indiana’s will to win barely pulled them through 74-70 Tuesday night in a hard-fought battle against Penn State.
Victory against the odds
Coach Miller was rather pleased after pocketing his first ever victory over Penn State: “Really good win for our team. I thought we really grinded one out here today when we didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. Found other ways to make the plays that we needed to make to win.”
Indiana’s struggle to hit the hoop was real Tuesday night– so real it should have costed them the game. The Hoosiers’ 6-27 from deep and 40% from the field far from an even match to Penn State’s 6-14 from deep and 50% from the field. Offensive rebounding bailed the Hoosiers out of their failed attempts at the basket to put up 11 second chance points.
Hanging by a thread to their winning record, the Hoosiers (now 10-7) left their bad turnover habits at the door. Ball handling was the best it’s been all season in the first half with 2 turnovers. A sloppier second half had the team up to 9, compared to Penn State’s 14. The Hoosiers were able to capitalize 2 more points than the Nittany Lions from turnovers. That measly 2 points made all the difference at the end.
What Tuesday night’s game really came down to was free points. Indiana’s clean defensive tactics kept Penn State from the charity stripe for the entire first half, when they were leading 35-31. A foul-filled second half gave the Nittany Lions 12 points, but Hoosiers’ 18-22 from the line earned them the edge in the end.
— Indiana Basketball (@IndianaMBB) January 10, 2018
“There are other ways you can win the game,” Coach Miller explained during the post-game conference, “You can win the game with stops and with rebounding and win the battle at the free-throw line; hey, don’t turn the ball over. There’s a lot of other ways you can impact the game from shooting. Shooting doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it.”
What ultimately gave Indiana the win over Penn State was their team effort and will to win. “I think this is the first time all season we were able to string together two consecutive, what we felt were 40 minute efforts, and I think that’s big for us moving forward,” Juwan Morgan said post-game, “if we can continue to do that we’ll continue to do better.” For a team that’s been unable to play a consistent 40 minutes, their nonstop efforts despite the inability to hit the hoop were quite impressive.
Indiana outscored Penn State in bench points by a landslide—25 to 1. Five players scored in the double digits Tuesday night.
For much of the season, Juwan Morgan has been the Indiana’s most valuable player. Tuesday was no different. Morgan lead the team and earned his sixth double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
No need to panic on a miss, because Juwan Morgan will be there to clean it up.
— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) January 10, 2018
Josh Newkirk bounced back from a scoreless game at Minnesota with 16 points and 4 assists. The 6’1’’ guard was 7-8 from the line, but showed no improvement with his 1-4 from behind the arc. Devonte Green recorded 13 points and was 4-4 from the line. Collin Hartman added 10 points and 5 rebounds for the Hoosiers. The fifth-year senior shot an unusual 1-6 from deep following his 4-8 at Wisconsin.
Robert Johnson put up 10 points and grabbed 5 boards. The senior guard has struggled with his shot all season. Against Penn State, he was 3-13 from the field and 1-7 from behind the arc. Johnson was 3-3 from the line, but his ball handling struggles costed the Hoosiers 4 turnovers.
The scoreboard didn’t show, but Zach McRoberts was a valuable contributor for the Hoosiers on Tuesday night. McRoberts recorded 6 rebounds and 3 assists, but fouled out in 26 minutes.
After defeating Penn State, Indiana is ranked 4th in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers are now 10-7 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten. The cream and crimson squad will have 5 days of rest before their next conference challenge. Indiana hosts Northwestern on Sunday, December 14th. Tip-off is set for 4:30 pm EST at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Big Red Bench Update
De’Ron Davis sat out on the bench Tuesday night. Last Friday afternoon Coach Miller announced Davis had suffered a non-contact injury to his lower leg in practice. There is still no word on how long the Hoosiers’ starting forward will need to recover.
After sitting out with a sore shoulder against Minnesota on Saturday, Collin Hartman played 27 minutes wearing a shoulder brace.