Leadership key in Indiana’s 95-73 Big Ten tournament win over Iowa

  • 03/09/2017 11:37 pm in

WASHINGTON – In its first taste of tournament play this season, Indiana didn’t flinch.

The Hoosiers (18-14) played arguably their most complete game in months on Thursday night, a dominating 95-73 win over Iowa to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.

Indiana has often looked out-of-sync this season. That was not the case Thursday. Passes were crisper, defensive rotations were sharper and communication was evident on the court.

The poor ball movement on offense and lack of defensive intensity seen in prior weeks all but vanished. In its place was an Indiana team that played with a sense of purpose and togetherness not seen since the Jan. 21 victory over Michigan State.

“All the older guys in the group – Rob (Johnson), James (Blackmon), Josh (Newkirk) – they just all brought us together and just said alright enough is enough,” Juwan Morgan said after the game. “We have to come together and do this if we want to make this run.”

It wasn’t a players-only meeting that did the trick, according to Morgan. Instead, it was a concentrated effort to correct the issues that Indiana has been facing for months.

“Every now and again at practice, we just called a huddle and went ‘look, we’ve gotta get this together right now,'” Morgan said. “Or even in the game, I know at the beginning of the game my head wasn’t in it and Rob just pulled me to the side and said ‘look we need you, you’ve gotta do this, this and this.’ We just got it together.”

As a result, Indiana thoroughly defeated the Hawkeyes (18-14). The game was close at points, but unlike previous contests, Indiana never faded. The Hoosiers led for more than 30 minutes, including the final 17:12 of the game.

The entire backcourt rotation couldn’t be stopped from behind the arc, as James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson, Devonte Green and Curtis Jones combined to shoot 10-for-14 on 3-pointers.

Indiana’s offense was especially potent in the second half, when they put up 52 points on 68 percent shooting.

“We’re making shots that we have at times missed this year, but it was never a question that we were not a good shooting team,” Tom Crean told reporters after the game. “It’s a matter of making sure that the ball is moving.”

Inside the paint, Indiana’s frontcourt managed to stay out of foul trouble, allowing them to have a field day. All of the big men had productive games, but it was freshman De’Ron Davis that provided the biggest spark.

Davis knocked down all seven of his attempts from the field and recorded only three personal fouls. When Davis was on the court, Indiana was a +21.

“I’ve seen him improve so much from the start of the season, when he was just huffing and puffing up and down and the court.” Thomas Bryant said of Davis. “Now I see him, he’s going out there and making plays – scoring, passing the ball – he has great footwork down in the low post as well. I’ve seen him starting to be more aggressive and have more confidence in his game.”

It wasn’t just the offense, either.

The defensive display put on by Indiana was on a level rarely seen this season. The Hoosiers held Iowa to a mere 6-of-10 from the free throw line and 0.96 points per possession, marking just the fourth time they’ve held an opponent under a point per possession in conference play.

The performance was all the more impressive considering what happened when these teams met just over two weeks ago. On that night, Iowa went 39-of-47 from the line and scored at a rate of 1.16 PPP in an overtime victory in Iowa City.

“We were more connected as all five instead of trying to play five games of one-on-one,” Juwan Morgan said after the game. “When (Peter) Jok would get away from someone, the whole team would see it and we’d switch off. Next thing you know, someone else was on him. Then they would hold their own until the guy we had planned to be on him got back on him. Just that connectedness really helped us throughout the whole game.”

The hot shooting on offense and collaboration on defense allowed Indiana to pull away from Iowa despite turning the ball over 17 times.

Team health improving

Indiana has been banged up all season. Now, with postseason play underway, the team is beginning to heal.

Morgan, who injured his left foot when he collided into an official in a game against Rutgers back on Jan. 15, said postgame he’s beginning to get close to full health.

“I feel like this is the healthiest I’ve been since that game,” Morgan said. “It feels more fluid out there. Just listening to the training staff and doing everything they’re telling me to do in terms of treatment and how hard to go at certain times, because they see that something is paining me. Just listening to them.”

Freddie McSwain has been trying to find a rhythm on the floor since recovering from offseason surgery.

On Thursday, McSwain scored four points and didn’t commit a foul. It was the first time McSwain didn’t pick up a personal since the triple-overtime game against Penn State on Feb. 1.

“My knee is still hurting a little bit, but I’m glad I’m getting healthier and healthier every game,” McSwain said after the game.

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  • No matter what happens from here on out, at least we got a glimpse of how this team can play when they put everything together. I’d love to have seen a few less TOs, would have likely broken the B1G tourney record for points.

  • Lang

    You are always looking at things positively and constructively. Thanks, bro

  • John Mathias

    47 free throws compared to 10. Do we really think that there was that much of a difference in how we played? Balanced reffing played the biggest part in this game. When a game is called somewhat fair it evens the playing field. That game in Iowa was an absolute joke. Its why much of regular season basketball and basketball as a whole is unwatchable.

  • Shaggy_C

    This has been a common theme of the Crean era – the coach builds the system, but given the various options and permutations of the offensive sets it’s up to the players to know what to do, where to be, and when to do it. The only way it can be successful is when the older players hold the younger guys accountable and get them all on the same page. Glad the juniors finally stepped up to the task, and I hope it carries over to tonight!

  • Jeff Linback

    I don’t know where this team came from but I hope they show up again tonight.

  • Michael Bender

    Great game, however, may be too little too late, these adjustments should have been done in mid January by the coaching staff. Late March is unacceptable when the damage has been done. The only way IU gets in the NCAA tourney is the win the Big Ten tourney, short of beating P for that, this a season of failure, Crean’s got to go!

  • Hoosier Hall

    I’m betting Michigan beats Purdue tonight. They are hot right now and Purdue has a history of choking.

  • Michael Bender

    I hope you are right bro! Always root for who ever is playing against P and that includes the cheaters in Lexington!

  • Hoosier Hall

    Oh definitely not. If Purdon’t plays Kensucky I root for the power to go out and they call it a no-contest. Hate both teams equally. If either of them played the old USSR team I’d root for the USSR.

  • Michael Bender

    LOL!

  • pcantidote

    My gut said we could beat Iowa because of the matchup. Now my gut says we lose because of the matchup. Every Wisconsin game is a grind it out, pull your hair out 2 hours of misery. Unless the stars align with low TO, equality in fouls and high shooting percentage, I predict another frustrating one. 72-61, bad guys. Really hope I can come back and eat that crow.

  • pcantidote

    What were the adjustments?

  • ’11Hoosier

    I’m in a weird and conflicted place because I whole-heartedly agree with you that Crean’s got to go. BUT, I want the best for the players and playing their way to the Championship game would likely get them in the tournament.

    Joe Lunardi has them as the 6th or 7th team out. Two more big wins and they’re likely in. Sadly, a tournament birth likely means Crean is staying.

  • Arch Puddington

    I continue to believe that the “leadership” thing is significantly overstated. What I DON”T think is overstated is the combination of shooting an eFG% above 70 and holding a team to less than 1.0 PPP. The players-only meetings and in-game huddles are part of it, but in the end it’s about execution more than anything.

    Beyond that, not entirely sure what to make of it. We have still lost 8 of our last 12 games, and we have only beaten two tournament teams since the end of November. (And those were teams currently projected as 9 and 10 seeds, one of which was in free fall of its own). On the other hand, we have scored 96 and 95 points in our last two games, breaking one scoring record and nearly breaking another. Impressive.

    Sorting through it all, it seems to me we are still what we have been all along: a team that defends poorly, turns the ball over too much, and depends on the three point shot for too much of its success. I’m proud of the players for continuing to fight, and happy they are trending up. But two wins against not-very-good teams doesn’t convince me that we have turned any corner or that we are on the verge of an epic run. Hope I’m wrong.

  • pcantidote

    He’s already staying in my opinion. Glass will chalk it up to injuries and give him next year to right the ship. Last night sealed the deal.

  • pcantidote

    Completely agree. You can’t overreact to one game, even as nice as it was. If they come out today and light up Wisconsin, then it may be time to start talking about corners being turned. As I posted right below you, I don’t see that happening. I wasn’t compelled by Iowa’s “hot streak” and I am not compelled by Wisconsin’s “cold streak”. It is about matchups. I do have to admit though that I find it very odd that Iowa went into Madison and won last week. Go Hoosiers!

  • Michael Bender

    Sharper passing, less turnovers, better shot selection, defense, less turnovers, ball movement, offense movement in motion, TB finally playing like a center, multiple blocks around the post, leaving hot player in the game, looking focused instead of deer in headlight lost standing around watching others, aggressive rebounding…ya know the fundamentals of the game we are taught in the 8th grade!

  • pcantidote

    And you really think all of that was taught in the last week? Or maybe Iowa is just a good matchup for us? I might believe it if we see more of the same tonight.

  • Kyl470

    Agreed. CTC teams always look good when they are hitting above 50% of their 3 pointers. It’s when the 3’s don’t go in we look like a broken offense and broken team.

  • Michael Bender

    Obviously not taught last week, perhaps the team finally got the message and were focused. Lets see how far that focus takes them if at all against Wisc. The first few minutes of the game and the first few minutes of the second half will provide some clues.

  • Lance76

    Wisconsin will have to take note of threes being made. Pound the ball into TB and DD. IU owes one to Hayes for saying no one could guard him. I say put JM on him and see what happens. I think we need to limit Happ to half his normal points, but that young man is a load.

  • IUBBallFan

    If the team were truly bad, we wouldn’t be complaining … or still watching. Last night was a validation that my sticking around to see these guys play wasn’t insanity. And now, like any whipped puppy, I’m just a tad afraid we’ll see the old team come out of the locker room tonight … LOL

  • IUBBallFan

    I agree. And really, if he found the magic to turn this season around, how can I quibble with that? I don’t hate our coach. I want to give this guy every chance to succeed.

  • iugradmark

    Arch I agree with your comments. Indiana is not going to solve the turnover issue so they have to have things that overcome the turnovers. Namely, they have to shoot well from the 3, remain close on the foul differential, and play some defense. A lot of these things are determined by their competition. As you stated, OSU and IU are at the bottom of the league on defense so they are a good match up for IU. Likewise, Iowa wants to play fast which helps IU get up and down the floor and get open looks outside of the half-court where we struggle. Most top tier teams or teams like Wisconsin will not let IU play this way so it becomes a lot more difficult to overcome the turnovers.

  • IULore

    That’s pretty astute. I have been saying that to many of my co-workers. The common thread on good Crean teams is experience and buy-in. He’s actually similar to Pitino in that regard, except Pitino yanks all freshman after any mistake, leaving Louisville fans perplexed and angry.

  • VanPastorMan

    As far as centers go I really liked a lot of what Davis did.

  • Sherronhasaheadache

    That looked like the IU team from november and JBJ was dishing to open shooters! enlightening. the kids did a great job of sharing the ball with no player with more than 10shot atempts. BEAT WISCONSIN!

  • One of my biggest disappointments this season was we never got to see a 100% healthy OG completely shut down Hayes. That would have been a sight to see.

  • I hear everything you’re saying, and yet, yesterday was a different team than we’ve seen. They _did_ play some good defense, they _did_ move well and take good shots, and they _did_ communicate. Now, was that a one-time thing? Maybe, and it won’t be too long before we find out. For myself, I’m just glad we got to see at least once what this post-OG team is capable of, and yesterday was enough of a beat-down of a team fighting for its tourney hopes that I think we can give it a little more weight than we usually would. Beating OSU by four is one thing, beating Iowa by 22 is another.

    Bring on Wisconsin so we can see if yesterday was a fluke.

  • I don’t know if that describes yesterday’s game, though. We were playing through the post, which led to good shots on the perimeter. We’ve definitely had games where the only thing that stood out was 3-point shooting, and I don’t think yesterday’s game qualifies. The good thing is, we’ll find out in a few hours what the real scoop is on the team right now.

  • After this season, I’m happy to overreact to one great win — even if it only ends up lasting about 24 hours. If we lose today, there will be enough negativity to make up for any unqualified exuberance.

  • Sarasota Hoosier

    Interestingly, ESPN made a point to say the selection committee does not pay attention to losses, only wins. Given that, if IU makes it to the championship game, then they are likely in. Of course, it would be a great time for IU to win its first BIG tournament! Go Hoosiers!

  • HoosierStuckInACCCountry

    Naw. CTC will implement that “shoot 70%” game plan again tonight. *tongue in cheek*

  • dwdkc

    I think your latter comments are spot on as are the comments in reply. This game was qualitatively different than anything we’ve seen in months, and that’s reason enough to add some intrigue if we can keep it going. Nobody would be surprised if our miserable recent history against Wiscy continues, but there’s more hope now than before last night. I do think the leadership thing is important. Why haven’t these guys been playing harder and smarter on D? That’s about really bringing the mental intensity and holding each other accountable. And some of that is the coaching too.

  • AndyCapp

    I think he’s already been given every chance to succeed. In some regards he has. His biggest failures (or lack of significant success) have been in the tourney’s (B1G and NCAA) where he hasn’t made a deep run. Change that and you MAY change many IUBB fans minds, including mine.

  • AndyCapp

    Sadly true. Nature of one-and-done tourney’s is that reality can come back far too quickly. And the reality is this was a stinker of a season. I would be ecstatic if I didn’t have to think any more about it for a few more days and just continue to overreact to more great wins 😉