A chorus of boos rained over Branch McCracken Court. It was 50-40 Northwestern, and Indiana fans had had enough. The Hoosiers ended the first half with no field goals in the last 7:05.
But somehow, the Hoosiers rallied in the second half and won a game they couldn’t afford to lose, 66-62, behind Trayce Jackson-Davis’ 21 points.
So how does one write about the game we just watched? In the midst of a season featuring plenty of good, plenty of bad and plenty of ugly, this game bottled it all up in 40 minutes.
Everyone wants the bad news first, so we’ll start with the ugly. It started after an Al Durham slam with 7:05 to go in the first half. Indiana led 29-19 and looked like a whole new team, especially offensively. That quickly ended.
A former lacrosse standout, Pat Spencer, got hot for Northwestern. He finished with 15 points. Northwestern was slicing and dicing the Indiana defense to finish the first half.
In the final 7:05 of the first half, Indiana was 0-for-6 and had six turnovers. Meanwhile, Northwestern went on a 15-2 run to take a 34-31 lead to halftime.
“We were definitely lacking some energy,” Justin Smith said. “Why, I couldn’t tell you. I just think it’s kind of, we need to be more engaged going into it.”
There’s no disputing that Jackson-Davis is the best player on the court for Indiana. He got off to another solid start for Indiana, including a sweet alley-oop from Durham. However, he didn’t take a single shot in the final 8:59, which was the alley-oop.
It’s absolutely mind-boggling to see a player get off to such a good start and then not touch the ball for such long stretches. Somehow, Jackson-Davis disappears for long stretches. For a team that cannot hit 3-pointers, he cannot afford to be absent from the offense.
“Very concerned with our group right now, just in terms of where our brains are, where our minds are and what we’re about,” head coach Archie Miller said.
Overall, the ugly included a lot of 3-point misses. After starting 2-for-2, Indiana finished 3-for-14 from long range, a dismal 21.4 percent. Overall, the Hoosiers shot 37 percent from the floor.
This performance comes on the heels of an interesting quote from Miller on his radio show Monday where he talked about it being “complete BS” that this team can’t shoot. Well, they didn’t exactly back him up tonight.
The shooting was ugly, the turnovers were bad. After finishing the first half on the wrong side of a Northwestern 15-2 run, the second half was just as bad. Eight minutes into the second half, Northwestern was up 10, 50-40.
Indiana’s turnover count was up to 11. Smith had five himself, all in the first half. After a 29-19 start for Indiana, Northwestern rallied off a 31-11 run. A crowd that just wanted to get behind this team felt no reason not to boo.
“It just doesn’t seem like our group is just locked in on ‘I do my job when I come in the game,’ and it just seems like we have some guys that are really unsure,” Miller said.
There was more bad. Devonte Green, arguably Indiana’s most creative offensive weapon, was completely absent. In fact, he didn’t
play in the final 10 minutes of the game. His 0-for-6 shooting performance was enough for Miller to place him on the bench and look elsewhere for production. Indiana was -13 with Green on the floor.
Green isn’t the only player struggling. While he did bank home a three in the first half, Jerome Hunter seems a little lost on the floor. Damezi Anderson and De’Ron Davis played five minutes combined. Race Thompson played just seven minutes. Smith was visibly frustrated with Miller when he came out at one point in the second half. A disagreement between the two was caught by the BTN cameras, where Smith walked away and threw his hands up in the air.
Outside of the efforts of Jackson-Davis, Durham and Smith, who combined for 55 points, there wasn’t much else.
“I’ll be honest with you, I don’t necessarily know right now if the 11-guy rotation is going to work,” Miller said. “I just don’t know necessarily if that’s the best thing moving forward if we’re not going to get all 11 heated up and playing as hard and as unselfish as we possibly can.”
Seth Davis of BTN pointed out the body language to start the second half. It was dejected, disparaged and discouraged. It looked like the same Indiana team that lacked confidence and lost 12 of 13 last year.
Can they fix it? Are there any easy fixes? That brings us to the good.
Even with all the issues listed above, Indiana responded. After that weird conversation with Miller, Smith turned in one of his better performances offensively. Smith finished with 18 points and six rebounds, four offensive. Smith, Brunk and Jackson-Davis all ended with four offensive rebounds.
Indiana’s 40-29 rebound margin and 12 second-chance points were a big reason why they came back. Quickly, a 10-0 run erased that 50-40 deficit and eventually took the lead, 60-59, with just under two minutes left, their first lead since the late stages of the first half.
More good came from Durham. He had the best game of any Hoosier defensively and added 16 points as well. He had three of Indiana’s nine steals, five of which came in the final 20 minutes.
— Indiana On BTN (@IndianaOnBTN) January 9, 2020
The free-throw line was also friendly to Indiana. The Hoosiers shot 23-for-30, 76.7 percent, from the charity stripe. Durham was 11-for-12 from the line. Miller always wants to make more free throws than his opponents attempt, and that was the case Wednesday. Indiana made 23 free throws and Northwestern attempted just 10.
“I was proud of the guys going to a line,” Miller said. That’s a big deal for our team, getting fouled. We were able to get fouled in both halves.”
Joey Brunk continues to impress with his effort on the glass. He finished with just five points, but he had 12 rebounds, four on the offensive end.
Overall, it’s not a win that inspires any hope in the fanbase. In fact, it might have made fans, and Miller, feel worse about their team than they did coming in. But, it’s a win, and it’s a win in Big Ten play. In a conference as tough as the Big Ten, I guess we all have to be OK with any win at this point.
Next up, a struggling Ohio State Buckeye team who has lost three straight. But, they’re the No. 11 team in the country and it’s an opportunity for Indiana to make a statement in front of its home fans.
“We’ve got to get ourselves out of a little bit of a funk, and we have to start competing a little harder, because this is the toughest league in America right now to win a game,” Miller said.