By Josh Eastern
Archie Miller’s first season in Bloomington has been marred by some inconsistent play on the court.
The Hoosiers won three games in a row over lower-level competition at the end of November, but haven’t been able to string together much against power conference teams. But after a second straight win over a Big Ten opponent, there are signs of the Hoosiers starting to break out of that inconsistency.
On the heels of Miller’s first Big Ten road win at Minnesota, the Hoosiers put together another 40 minutes of winning basketball earning a 74-70 win over Penn State.
“I think this is the first time all season we was able to string together two consecutive, what we felt were 40 minute efforts, and I think that’s big for us moving forward,” senior guard Robert Johnson said. “If we can continue to do that we’ll continue to do better.”
Indiana shot just 40.3 percent from the field and just 22.2 percent from behind the arc. That isn’t going to win many ballgames, let alone Big Ten games. Yet, IU was able to do the small things Tuesday against the Nittany Lions. The Hoosiers accumulated 25 bench points, 14 assists and 12 offensive rebounds.
There were countless other plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet, as well. IU got their hands in the passing lanes causing Penn State some trouble on the offensive end. The passing and cutting on offense was crisp. Miller also mentioned five players scoring in double figures. Coming of a Minnesota game where three players accounted for 68 of the 75 points, that was a welcome sight.
“Shooting the ball for whatever reason has been the one frustrating thing with this team,” Miller said. “Guys are getting good looks, they’re just not going down. There’s other ways you can win the game. 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.”
No one embodies what Indiana wants to do defensively quite like Zach McRoberts. Once again the walk-on from Carmel, Indiana didn’t score. Instead he contributed six rebounds, three assists, and three steals. He fouled out after another start and 26 minutes, but what the Hoosiers got from McRoberts was what they need to be successful.
Another differential stat was the offensive rebounds. The Hoosiers were plus seven in that category even with their best frontcourt player in De’Ron Davis sidelined and in a walking boot. Miller mentioned how good the Penn State frontcourt is and yet, the Hoosiers still out-rebounded them.
“I still think that when I’m going against other bigs I still feel like I have the advantage, no matter how tall they are or how much stronger they are than me,” junior forward Juwan Morgan said. “And I think that just goes to the testament of the work we put in every day. And even if I don’t have it, I know my guys will knock down shots, and I can just kick it out to them.”
For Indiana to be successful moving forward, more performances like the last two are needed. Tuesday wasn’t necessarily the cleanest game because of the shooting, but in the Big Ten, a win is a win and it will help them moving forward.
“Find a way to get the win,” Miller said. “I think that was a big boost at Minnesota being able to get that one. Tonight, against a good Penn State team, I thought we played to win. I didn’t think there were any shenanigans going on, whether sloppy turnovers or lack of detail. We weren’t great, by any stretch of the imagination. But guys were locked in, playing to win. I think we had a good mindset in terms of that and we’ve got to keep growing.”