At the top of the arc, Romeo Langford received the ball from Devonte Green. He quickly broke to his right, gliding past Northwestern star Vic Law.
Langford only needed one dribble and four effortless steps to evade Law and convert the game-winning basket. His patented floater with 39 seconds remaining handed Indiana the 68-66 victory against Northwestern in its Big Ten opener.
For the final 3:30 of Saturday’s game, Juwan Morgan was out with an apparent injury to his right leg. It looked somewhat serious, as Morgan was unable to put weight on his right foot. Indiana’s most reliable weapon had just been sidelined. And it was the freshman, Langford, who made the game-winning play.
“We just tried to give him an opportunity to get downhill,” head coach Archie Miller said of the play. On his second bounce, he exploded up. He got a good luck. It was an executed play.”
Although not the most cleanly in terms of officiating, Indiana took better care of the basketball against Northwestern, especially in key situations such as Langford’s floater. The Hoosiers won ugly, but they won so without turning the ball over in the final seven minutes — and only two turnovers in the final 15 minutes.
Following a 21-point loss at Duke on Tuesday, Saturday’s win was an example of a young Indiana team that showed its ability to mature. Or, as Miller said postgame, an IU team that is learning on the run. The Hoosiers shot only 11-of-19 from the free throw line, struggled to find answers against Northwestern’s 6-foot-8 senior forward Dererk Pardon (24 points on 11-of-15 shooting), and lost their most consistent player at the game’s most critical juncture. But Indiana found a way to win, through key defensive stops late in the game and relying on its prized freshman talent to call game. Langford finished with 20 points on an efficient 8-of-13 effort from the floor.
“I think it all comes with time,” Miller said of growth and cohesion. “We’re getting completely tested right now. We’re learning on the run. And this is a great film, obviously, with great opportunity for us to continue to kind of show how we have to play.”
Despite missing the final three and a half minutes, Morgan was yet again instrumental in leading the Hoosiers to victory. He was excellent underneath the basket, finishing a nifty 3-point play that gave Indiana the 58-57 lead with 4:343 remaining. Indiana’s senior workhorse finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and three assists.
His health is paramount to the trajectory of this Indiana season — a season in which Morgan promised would blossom into a return to the NCAA Tournament. Miller did not have an update postgame on the status of Morgan, as he did not speak with Morgan or team trainers following the game. Miller’s team was decimated by injuries to start the season, and is simply “knocking on wood” that Morgan’s injuries is not serious.
Indiana next plays an impressive Penn State team on Tuesday in State College, and returns to non-conference play with resume-building opportunities against Louisville and Butler.
“I don’t know what happened to Juwan,” Miller said postgame. “And I’m not sure what the status is. I haven’t had a chance to see him or the docs or the trainers. Knock on wood, we’ll hope for the best. I didn’t see it happen. I’m not real sure.”
For now, however, Indiana is undefeated in a conference that will test these Hoosiers at every chance it gets. The Big Ten, as a whole, is remarkably improved from the league that sent only four teams to last season’s NCAA Tournament.
As Miller said, Indiana is very clearly learning on the run. But the Hoosiers found a way to win their Big Ten opener, and that result alone is worthy of a passing grade.
I would say that this year the Big Ten has a lot of very good teams, probably pretty much all the teams are very good and an win a game on any given night,” Justin Smith said. “It’s going to be a dogfight every night, but we’re ready for it.