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‘We were very emotionless’: Amidst losing skid, IU searching for third offensive option

Evan Fitzner and Devonte Green defend against Nebraska. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

In what was certainly Indiana’s most disappointing performance of the season, a 66-51 home defeat to Nebraska, Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford fielded questions relating to IU’s tendency to start slow, mindset concerns, and a daunting schedule forthcoming.

Indiana has a multitude of complex problems that it must overcome to end its three-game Big Ten losing streak and survive an upcoming stretch that includes four of its next five on the road — with the lone home game against No. 2 Michigan. As ’emotionless’ as the Hoosiers were on Monday, and as injured as their bench is, Indiana’s uninspiring display against Nebraska was the latest example of an offense desperate for legitimate depth in terms of production.

Morgan and Langford accounted for 35 of the Hoosiers’ 51 points in Assembly Hall’s first home game of the spring semester. It was dangerously close to an historically poor offensive start for this IU program — as Indiana has only been held to under 20 first-half points ten times in the past two decades. The Hoosiers managed 22 against Nebraska’s 1-3-1 zone defense in the first 20 minutes, and only Morgan and Langford converted multiple baskets in the first half.

“Why guys aren’t excited to get ready to go tonight, as much as we had at stake just in terms of being able to get back up off the mat at home, I don’t know,” Archie Miller said. “As the coach, you’ve got to be able to push the right buttons, and clearly we’re not pushing the right buttons right now.

Offense is more than shots. But Morgan and Langford account for 54.6 percent of Indiana’s shots attempted, and 52.8 percent of its possessions used according to KenPom metrics. During IU’s three-game losing skid to Michigan, Maryland, and Nebraska, only Devonte Green (once) has finished in double-digit scoring alongside Morgan and Langford. Granted, the Hoosiers were missing an in-rhythm and healthy Rob Phinisee — however IU’s freshman point guard played 27 minutes Monday and offensive troubles remained.

In two of IU’s three recent losses, Zach McRoberts has a ‘zero’ offensive rating per KenPom. He has played in 12 games this season, averaging 17 minutes per game, and has attempted only ten shots all season. Evan Fitzner posted a ‘zero’ offensive rating against Michigan and played only five minutes Monday as Clifton Moore appeared to serve as his replacement — sparking the Hoosiers with five points and three rebounds in 5:27 of playing time during a critical stretch.

“I think it’s just a confidence thing,” Morgan said. “You know, for Cliff and guys like Jake, I always tell them my story from my freshman year, like whenever — I didn’t play much, but whenever I got in, you have to be ready. You have to be ready to make the big play, regardless of what that is. Cliff got in and gave us some really good minutes, and I think he’s just really come along, just as a defender, as a rebounder, and just being confident in himself. I think you saw a little bit of it tonight, and I think going forward he’s going to be huge for us.”

Simply put, these Hoosiers lack a third weapon that is able to consistently produce, or at the very least, threaten an opposing defense. Duos such as Morgan and Langford are rare in college basketball, but if anything, their presence should help in creating mismatches and scoring opportunities for teammates. Instead, opponents such as Nebraska have been able to fully concentrate on limiting Morgan and Langford without the threat of a third method of attack. Morgan is as consistent as can be in the paint, and Langford is one of the most unguardable players in the country when driving to the basket. But the Hoosiers are not an excellent shooting team, and are currently plagued by seemingly invisible offensive outputs from McRoberts, Fitzner, and Justin Smith. It does not help that De’Ron Davis is ‘not able to go right now,’ Phinisee is recovering from a concussion, Al Durham suffered an injury Monday, and freshman wing threat Jerome Hunter is taking a medical redshirt.

“But we didn’t shoot the ball well at all tonight,” Miller said. “To be honest with you, we have some guys that have lost some confidence, whether it’s been in and out of lineups, in and out of practices, in and out of this. We’re sort of really starting to move into that role, not real sure what we are getting out of certain rotations and certain things.”

Following Monday’s loss, Miller used the word ‘searching’ to find a frontcourt option alongside Morgan. In the brief time that he played, Moore handed the Hoosiers some of their best minutes played against the Huskers. Confidence is a fragile attribute, and right now, these Hoosiers are lacking a third possibility of offensive confidence. Indiana travels to West Lafayette Saturday to face Purdue.

“At the end of the day, it comes down to energy level, it comes down to leadership,” Miller said. “I felt like tonight for whatever reason, I didn’t see the same team that we’ve had all year. A lot of the tougher games that we’ve won, we’ve been in tough spots. We’ve always had a very, very good energy level. We’ve always had a very, very communicating team, a team that obviously is prodding one another, plugging one another along as the game is going, and we didn’t even have that tonight. We were very emotionless.”

Teddy Bailey

I am a senior from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, studying in IU’s School of Global and International Studies. Prior to joining The Hoosier Network, I spent two seasons covering IU Athletics for the Indianapolis Star alongside Zach Osterman after becoming the Sports Editor of the Indiana Daily Student as a freshman. While I found myself studying Italian in Florence this past summer, I interned with The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2017 — my hometown paper. In case you want to talk cheesesteaks or the Philadelphia 76ers, you can find me on Twitter, @ByTeddyBailey.

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