IU was beaten down before the game even started.
Sophomore forward De’Ron Davis was ruled out indefinitely Friday afternoon, and senior forward Collin Hartman’s status was uncertain going into the Hoosiers’ road game against Minnesota with a sore right shoulder.
That didn’t matter Saturday evening for IU, grinding out a tough 75-71 road win in Big Ten play over the Gophers.
The Hoosiers were going to need a collective effort going into a hostile environment with both Davis and Hartman out with injuries, especially down low. Freshman forward Justin Smith was inserted into the starting lineup for Davis and made the most out of his opportunity, scoring a career-high 20 points and seven rebounds.
Senior forward Freddie McSwain Jr. had a quietly productive game on the boards with a total of eight. Once again, junior forward Zach McRoberts made enough hustle plays to help put his team in the best position to win.
Smith along with senior guard Robert Johnson and junior forward Juwan Morgan were the heartbeat of the Hoosiers’ offensive production, scoring a combined 68 points.
The Hoosiers scored 75 in total. Talk about a collective effort.
It was alarming IU only had three major contributors in the scoring department, but it didn’t matter for them. The team was missing its two most vital parts of its squad and faced a road test in conference play that seemed essential to come out victorious from following the 71-61 loss at Wisconsin.
So what made IU’s three-headed monster Friday night so productive?
It all started with constant motion on offense, leading to smart cuts by Johnson and Morgan, and offensive rebounding leading to second-chance points.
This game was a sloppy one, especially earlier on by both teams. IU entered halftime with a 32-31 lead after giving up a late 8-0 run to end the first period. Even though it looked bleak at times for the Hoosiers, they managed to string together small runs in order to stay within firing distance to make a late run for the win.
Morgan was as reliable as ever down low and even knocked down some three-balls en route to a strong 28-point performance, adding 12 rebounds in a double-double performance.
There have been times, more often than not, where Johnson has become non-existent in big moments against prestigious opponents. That wasn’t the case against Minnesota. Although Johnson made sloppy passes and questionable decisions on offense, he was there when IU needed him.
Two and-one buckets and the final three free throws to ice the game were the difference between a solid road win and another late-game collapse for IU. Johnson wouldn’t let the latter happen.
Like I said before, this was one of the more sloppy games IU has been a part of this season, but the difference between it being IU’s downfall and IU’s strength was offensive rebounding and second-chance points.
The Hoosiers had 17 offensive boards which led to 17 second-chance points. Minnesota had just eight offensive rebounds leading to nine second-chance points. Even without Davis, IU found a way to be a force down low with Morgan, Johnson, McRoberts and McSwain.
IU needed a collective effort to win this game, especially down low, and they did just that. It wasn’t the most spread out performance, but it was enough to get their second Big Ten win of the season.
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