A weight has been lifted off of Indiana’s shoulders.
Indiana finally earned its first road win of the season, as Indiana beat Nebraska 82-74 in Lincoln on Saturday to sweep the Cornhuskers. The Hoosiers not only got their first road win of the season, but this was only the seventh time all season a road team has won in Big Ten play.
The Hoosiers’ effort in Lincoln was a near opposite of what was seen on Wednesday at Rutgers that included a season-low 50 points scored by the Hoosiers. Unlike the Rutgers contest, Indiana found ways to hit shots from outside the paint, administered good ball movement and received balanced scoring from the guards and bench as a whole.
The one consistency, and the only good thing, between the Rutgers and Nebraska games was the excellent play from Indiana’s bigs in Joey Brunk, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Justin Smith. The frontcourt trio is why Indiana is now 14-4 and tied for third in the Big Ten with a 4-3 conference record.
Brunk, Jackson-Davis and Smith were the only three players for Indiana who finished in double-digit scoring. Jackson-Davis stood out with another double-double against Nebraska, recording 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting with 13 rebounds. Brunk and Smith added 16 and 15 points, respectively.
The big men had plenty of freedom to work, holding a reasonable size advantage over the Cornhuskers who don’t have a player over 6-foot-9. Indiana outrebounded Nebraska 47-30. Jackson-Davis, Smith and Brunk accounted for 25 rebounds.
In addition to the rebounding, the frontcourt had plenty of flexibility on offense, scoring the ball in a number of ways. Beyond just the post work, Brunk made two midrange jumpers, Jackson-Davis made six free throws and Smith nailed a 3-pointer.
The frontcourt has displayed great consistency all season, but what made Saturday different, and what amplified the impact of the frontcourt, was the supplemental help they received from the guards and the bench. The complete effort showed what IU is capable of when the team achieves offensive balance.
All that needs to be seen to compare Indiana’s efficiency in games like Saturday’s to what kind of team it is without offensive balance is to look at the box score against Rutgers.
Against Rutgers, Indiana had a total 50 points with little to no solid offensive flow. The ball did not move well at all, therefore the team’s scoring ability plummeted. Indiana hit two shots outside the paint for the game, both coming in the last 5:18 minutes of play, and were 2-for-19 from the 3-point line.
On Saturday, Indiana’s offense was far more polished and nearly totaled last game’s points by half, with 46 points at the intermission. Good ball movement and smart passes defined a night that saw the Hoosiers account for 21 assists. Against Rutgers, they had six.
All of the assist work resulted in improved results in shooting the ball from deep too. Indiana went 8-for-26 from beyond the arc, a number that is driven up due to the volume of shots taken, but all eight made three were assisted.
More than just 3-point shooting, balance for team scoring was very present. Nine Hoosiers scored Saturday, including four bench players combining for 21 points. Against Rutgers, there was a grand total of two points from the reserves.
Indiana’s offense went through its seemingly routine scoring drought in the back end of the second half, but as a whole the effort from the Hoosiers was what this team typically lacks.
The players who stand out can change from game to game, but continued balance like Saturday’s game is what the Hoosiers will need to find more success moving forward as they continue to fight through the gauntlet that is the Big Ten.