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Juniors Al Durham, Justin Smith lead the way in Indiana’s first game

After being the hero a week ago, Justin Smith shared the spotlight with fellow junior Al Durham in a 98-65 over Western Illinois.

Al Durham dropped 21 points in his return to the lineup after missing the exhibition game. He was a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor. (Kurt Spitler/HN)

The two juniors put on a show and were the catalysts for the Hoosiers against the Leathernecks. Each player recorded over 20 points and was dominant on both ends of the floor.

Smith’s night included matching his career high 24 points along with seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks. His performance was in succession of a performance from a week ago when the forward led the team with 18 points in an 84-54 exhibition win over Gannon.

Smith may have been great against Gannon, but Indiana as a whole was relatively sluggish.

Adding Durham back into the rotation Tuesday after missing the game a week ago due to injury, and Indiana showed to be much more dangerous as a team.

“Al’s an important part to what we do, he’s a leader on our team,” head coach Archie Miller said. “I think he did a nice job with our team in terms of leading them.”

Durham’s 21 points while shooting 7-for-7 from the field with three assists, coupled with Smith’s standout night was the winning formula for Indiana’s dominance over Western Illinois.

Other than a brief stint early in the first half, it was all Indiana, all night. In addition to Durham and Smith’s outstanding play, Rob Phinisee and Joey Brunk chipped in with double digits points as well and Armaan Franklin had eight assists with no turnovers.

Indiana’s success as a unit doesn’t come without the contributions of Durham and Smith, though.

Both players set the tone for the night and picked up the slack in Indiana’s struggles.

Durham provided relief starting at the point guard spot after the backcourt was marred by injury a week ago, forcing Franklin a true freshman and natural shooting guard to start against Gannon.

Durham was efficient moving the ball and running the offense, offering three assists to just one turnover on the night along with his usual hustle.

Moreover, Durham was practically the entire Indiana offense from the 3-point line as he went 3-for-3 from deep. Take Durham out and the Hoosiers were only 2-for-9 from long range.

Smith led the charge on the defensive end, disrupting the Leathernecks with his three steals which led to a barrage of dunks in transition.

“I feel like I’m at my best in transition,” Smith said. “But just in general, we got to use defense to create our offense especially with the kind of versatility that we have and the kind of athletes that we have.”

Miller also spoke highly of Smith’s defensive ability and the improvements he has made.

“I think defensively, (Smith) being able to move around the floor is very important,” Miller said. “When engaged, and when really locked in, can be an elite defender. He defended bigger players last year. Now he’s defending both.”

More than just a defensive threat, Smith shot well from the field on 11-for-17 shooting. He did most of his work around the rim, but also found the bottom of the net on a corner 3-pointer.

The duo of Smith and Durham were expected to make strides of improvement as juniors and thus far they have proven themselves in year three.

For continued success, Miller wants more not only out of his standout juniors, but sustained improvement from the unit as a whole.

“I think everyone can tell that there’s not a guy that doesn’t belong out there,” Miller said. “So hopefully it continues to give us confidence and we can get better.”

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