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Evan Fitzner brings value off the bench in Indiana basketball’s opener

Indiana senior forward Evan Fitzner scored 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the season opener on Tuesday November 6 against Chicago State (Mark Timko/HN)

In a dominant season opening 104-55 win for Indiana over Chicago State; the Hoosiers had balanced offensive contributions from just about every rotation player.

As great as the Hoosiers were, they presented rough patches to their game, too: free throws, lapses of mental focus on defense and struggles with three-point shooting.

This isn’t anything too alarming, especially for a team with as many new pieces as Indiana. They are things that will be adjusted over time.

One player who did his job very well for the Hoosiers and will be instrumental in fixing those flaws is Evan Fitzner.

The grad-transfer from Saint Mary’s didn’t get nearly the attention that fellow Hoosier newcomer Romeo Langford did coming into this season, but his value for this team tonight and moving forward cannot be understated.

He, in many ways, is a Swiss army-knife of a big man. He has the size at 6-foot-10 to work the ball down low in the post, the length to protect the rim, as well as the clip to provide the Hoosiers some help in three-point shooting.

On a night where he only logged 16 minutes, Fitzner provided a quiet and efficient 14 points. His output was the third highest total of any player on the team, only behind Langford’s 19 and junior guard Devonte Green’s 15.

In addition to scoring, Fitzner corralled six rebounds and had one block.

“He did a nice job,” IU head coach Archie Miller said. “Very high IQ, very skilled offensive player. I thought he did a nice job of throwing over the zone at times, catching it in the middle and skipping it out.”

The most impressive part of what Fitzner showed tonight was how he shot 5-of-6 from the field. He is an efficient player with smart shot selection, and finished a few easy lay-ins near the basket as well as a corner three. There were no rushed or forced shots.

On all the things that IU struggled with tonight, Fitzner held his own.

On free throws the Hoosiers shot a revolting 57.6 percent from the charity stripe (19-of-33). Though a small sample size, Fitzner made all three of his attempts.

When it came to perimeter shooting, IU was just fine— only hitting a third of their shots (7-of-21). Fitzner went one-for-two.

Though those numbers aren’t eye-popping, this was also a game that didn’t require Fitzner to display his full offensive repertoire. It’ll be more evident in time.

“He’s not a guy that obviously anchors down, but he can get to his spots,” Miller said. “And today, against the zone, he has a really good feel in the paint, how to catch it, how to move, in and around the basket he’s got good touch.”

While at Saint Mary’s, Fitzner was a career 78.1 percent free throw shooter and only improved in his three years of playing. In his junior season, he shot 86.4 percent from the line.

Throughout his college career, he has been excellent from beyond the arc as well with a career three-point field goal percentage of 41.4 percent. Fitzner does all the little things right and will serve as a great example for the rest of the team as only one of two scholarship seniors and one of two players with actual experience playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Fitzner may very well be the key to elevating the Hoosiers to an elite level.

He, in many ways, is reminiscent of another Hoosier grad transfer, Max Bielfeldt, who played for IU in the 2015-16 season after transferring from Michigan.

Bielfeldt was also a big man who had the ability to stretch the floor like Fitzner and overall provide value in many facets of the game.

Bielfeldt certainly made his presence felt for that team, coming off the bench and shooting 45.3 percent from three-point land and 51.6 percent from the field while averaging 8.2 points per game.

Fitzner could provide a very similar level of production for the Hoosiers this season; especially if they pass the ball as well as they did Tuesday night.

“I think that’s how you win games is sharing the ball, finding the open man,” Fitzner said. “Keep everyone happy. And like you said I was the beneficiary of that tonight.”

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