IU found themselves in a familiar situation against No. 18 Notre Dame, but the outcome was much different on Saturday afternoon.
Against then-No. 22 Seton Hall, against then-No.1 Duke, and against Louisville, IU had chances to pull out a win. Collapses in the second half diminished the hopes of a big-time win against a formidable opponent.
That wasn’t the case against the Fighting Irish and IU won an overtime thriller 80-77.
Junior forward Juwan Morgan wouldn’t let another collapse happen.
Riding a career-high 34 points, Morgan came up big for the Hoosiers and was their most reliable scorer, which has been the case for this entire season as well. He was there for IU in the second half down the stretch, and he was there in overtime, making the game-winning basket to seal the Hoosiers’ victory.
He picked up the slack for other Hoosier starters, too. Senior guard Josh Newkirk found himself in foul trouble early in the contest and was never able to get into a groove because of it. He fouled out with zero points in what was one of his worst performances of the season.
Sophomore forward De’Ron Davis didn’t help that cause either. His two and only points came in overtime, and he was a non-factor for most of the day other than the basket that he made.
Shooting was a major concern in this game to go along with the two starters’ struggles. IU shot just about 49 percent against Notre Dame, and had stretches of play where it seemed like they couldn’t muster up a single made bucket no matter what they did. The Irish capitalized on their struggles, going on multiple runs in an effort to close out the game.
But the Hoosiers came surging back every single time.
Senior guard Robert Johnson was coming off of a dud-performance against Louisville where he was held scoreless. It was one of his worst career games at IU, and he followed it up with a huge game in Indianapolis. Johnson seemed to get his groove back, shooting 50 percent from behind the arc and scoring 20 points. He, along with Morgan, were the Hoosiers’ standout performers in their overtime win.
Johnson hit multiple big buckets in the second half that got IU back into the game when hope seemed to dwindle.
The other significant piece to the Hoosiers’ winning formula was junior guard Zach McRoberts, grinded out numerous hustle plays and came down with a big rebound in overtime leading to Morgan’s game-winning basket. McRoberts had been earning more and more minutes as the season has progressed, and he showed why he can be an essential player for IU.
I said at the beginning of the season that if IU had any chance of making the NCAA Tournament, they were going to have to win at least one of the significant games on their schedule. They did just that on Saturday, and this win also gives them confidence and momentum as they progress through the final stretch of non-conference play.
Notre Dame is a tough team, led by senior forward Bonzie Colson, but Morgan did a good job against the national player of the year candidate and outplayed him en route to IU’s victory. That type of performance is why the Hoosiers can win these types of games this season.
Defense has improved significantly, rotations have looked cleaner, and perimeter defending has gotten better under IU Coach Archie Miller. This team just looks better than the squad that went out on opening night and lost to Indiana State at home.
And they are.
IU is improving rapidly, and getting a marquee win is a significant step in the right direction in Miller’s first season. When it seemed like the Hoosiers were out of the game, they came back and dug themselves out of the depths of uncertainty. That’s something that we haven’t seen before Friday, and you’re going to see them fight back like they did against the Irish.
The Hoosiers finally got their marquee win of the season, and they still have many games to gather more in Big Ten play. Don’t look now, but if this team continues to improve and more players continue to step up, they could be dancing in March.
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