Coming into their match-up with Youngstown State on Friday, the IU men’s basketball team looked to learn about themselves more than anything.
The Penguins came into the contest 2-10 on the year and had not beaten a Division I opponent.
According to the box score, it looked to be an easy win.
However, if the first half of the Hoosiers' 79-51 victory proved anything, it was that the version of the Hoosiers that heads back into Big Ten play on Jan. 2 is still closer to the one that suffered embarrassing home losses to the likes of Indiana State and IPFW rather than the one that pulled off a thrilling upset win over then-ranked Notre Dame.
Maybe it was the turnover from sophomore guard Devonte Green as soon as he entered the game.
Perhaps it was when sophomore forward De’Ron Davis, who stands at 6-10, got bullied on defense in the post by 6-5 guard Tyree Robinson, who finished with an easy layup. It could have been the near air-ball shot by Green on the front end of a one and one, that was followed up with a Collin Hartman loose ball foul, or even the glacier-like speed in which Davis recovered on his man after hedging on ball screens.
Whatever play one might choose, there were plenty that epitomized the careless, lifeless first half performance by the Hoosiers.
Going into halftime, IU held a 29-20 lead over the Penguins after shooting just 11-30 from the field and 2-11 from behind the arc.
Youngstown State was even worse by going 9-29 from the field and 0-12 from deep but managed to stay in the game after forcing IU into ten turnovers and getting plenty of open looks off of IU’s missed defensive assignments on slipped screens.
The first half turnovers have become a recurring problem for the Hoosiers this year, but junior forward Juwan Morgan said that falls on the shoulders of he and the rest of the team’s veterans
“That comes down to being careless with the ball,” Morgan said. “Sometimes I think people are just moving too fast and I think that just falls on the responsibility of the older guys and we just have to take that and preach it to the younger guys.”
The Hoosiers finally woke up after halftime as they started the second half on a quick 7-2 run behind the gritty play of junior walk-on Zach McRoberts.
McRoberts spearheaded the IU run with a sequence that saw him hit a three, get a steal, an assist and a block in the the span of two minutes.
It was that kind of fire and vigor that helped McRoberts end up with seven points and a team-high eight rebounds on the game and provide IU with one of its few consistent performers throughout the entire contest.
“Zach is always a huge help and it’s nothing he doesn’t do in practice every day,” Morgan said. “We always say Zach is the person you hate to have to go against and he showed that tonight with all the hustle plays.”
McRoberts’ influence could be seen among the entire IU team. In the second half, the Hoosiers were livelier on both ends of the floor and looked like a completely different team compared to the first half.
“I think this is a low-energy team. We’re not a hyped team,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “Zach is moving into the direction of becoming a guy that you know when he’s in there, he’s going full throttle. I think if we have guys out there that will impact the game with their effort and their passion, it could really spearhead some other guys.”
McRoberts wasn’t the only one that finished with an impressive stat line. Morgan led the Hoosiers in scoring with 16 points to go along with six rebounds. Senior guards Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk finished with 13 and 10 points respectively while freshman forward Justin Smith got some quality minutes in the second half, finishing with eight points and five rebounds.
The Hoosier team that showed up in the second half that shot 18-29 from the field and committed just five turnovers to 15 assists is the one that Miller said he wants to see more of as they head into Big Ten play.
“I thought we played pretty comfortable in the second half,” Miller said. “We didn’t turn the ball over as much and continued to work the ball inside as much as we could and played inside-out to our advantage.”
If IU’s ugly start didn’t already prove it, Miller also said there is still plenty of things for his team to improve upon as they get ready for a daunting two-game road stretch as they travel to Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Miller says one of the main issues is his team’s rebounding. The Hoosiers gave up 17 offensive rebounds to Youngstown State, but still managed to win the total rebounding margin 44-40.
“We’re not rebounding the ball at all right now,” Miller said. “(Giving up) 17 offensive rebounds is not going to cut it moving forward. You’re just not going to be able to survive against the teams in our league when you can’t rebound.”
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