Coming off the heels of a 20-point defeat against Fort Wayne just three days prior, IU needed a bounce back game in the worst way on Thursday night.
Tennessee Tech came to Bloomington with the tools to pull off the upset in the same manner Fort Wayne did, but the Hoosiers were prepared and ready to respond after their letdown loss.
IU (7-6, 1-1 in the Big Ten) came out firing from the start and held a sharpshooting Tennessee Tech team in check to pick up an 87-59 victory at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
The Golden Eagles entered Thursday with a top-100 3-point field goal percentage in the country, but the Hoosiers weren’t going to be beat from deep like they had been in their previous game.
“Our guys were, at least mentally and physically, playing a lot harder and were ready to play a lot harder,” IU Coach Archie Miller said on his postgame radio show. “It was good to see.”
The Hoosiers held their opponent under 30-percent shooting from long range, which allowed IU to steadily build a lead throughout the game. Early on in the first half, Tennessee Tech had kept it close and trailed just 12-11 before a five-minute scoreless stretch allowed IU to extend its lead to 23-11.
The Golden Eagles hung around for most of the first half, but another burst of scoring right before halftime allowed the Hoosiers to take a 38-26 lead into the break. Throughout the night, Miller’s team responded to each poor stretch with a sustained positive one.
Miller said the two days of practice since the loss to Fort Wayne were competitive as he worked to emphasize the importance of mindset.
“It’s unfortunate that you have to learn a really tough lesson about how hard you have to play and how hard you have to be prepared mentally, whether you win or you lose,” Miller said.
On an individual level, most players who saw the floor for IU provided production in at least one facet of the game. Senior guard Josh Newkirk turned in his season-high with 20 points, 16 of which came in the second half to help the Hoosiers pull away.
It was an important return to prominence for Newkirk, who had eight points and nine fouls in his last two games combined. The senior also picked up a game-high six assists.
“I thought he got us going and I thought he played extremely well tonight,” Miller said of Newkirk. “You could tell he was playing the game the right way.”
Newkirk and fellow senior backcourt mate Robert Johnson combined to shoot 5-9 from behind the arc as IU won the 3-point battle in the game. The Hoosiers led every major statistical category, forcing 16 turnovers against just 10 of their own.
Just one nonconference game remains on IU’s schedule, and it won’t come until next Friday against Youngstown State. There will be more room for development in that game, and possibly more minutes for players like freshman forwards Justin Smith and Clifton Moore, who both saw action late in the game on Thursday.
Most importantly, though, Miller is focused on letting his guys rest up through the Christmas holiday. He said his players will be allowed to return home the next few days before returning to practice early next week. When they do, the rest of the Big Ten schedule will be right around the corner.
“These guys deserve a well-deserved break,” Miller said. “We’ll be back on the 26th for practice and be ready to go.”
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