The odds seemed stacked against IU in Minnesota on Saturday.
With a pair of key forwards out due to injury and the fresh memory of a disappointing road loss at Wisconsin still in mind, the Hoosiers faced a tall task against the Golden Gophers.
Senior guard Robert Johnson stepped up to deliver a career-high 28 points, and IU Coach Archie Miller deftly handled his undermanned lineup as the Hoosiers (9-7, 2-2 in the Big Ten) picked up their first road win of the season with a 75-71 victory.
“I can’t say enough about the response and also looking each other in the eyes coming off Wisconsin and coming up here a little shorthanded,” Miller said on his postgame radio show. “There was an attack mode about us.”
Sophomore forward De’Ron Davis, a regular starter, was ruled out indefinitely with a lower leg injury Friday. Right before tipoff, it was announced that senior forward Collin Hartman had a minor shoulder injury. This allowed freshman Justin Smith to earn his second start of his career in the frontcourt, and he delivered as part of a trio of productive Hoosiers.
Smith scored IU’s first five points of the game and helped the Hoosiers jump out to an early lead. Some sloppy play and mental lapses burned IU heading into the break, and Minnesota scored the last eight points of the first half to cut the Hoosier lead to 32-31 at the halfway point.
In the game’s first 20 minutes, Johnson, Smith and junior forward Juwan Morgan had 25 of IU’s 32 points. It was a sign of things to come. Even after Minnesota came out with a 13-6 run to start the second half, IU was able to buckle down and rely on its three key contributors.
“The team’s going to make an adjustment, especially at home,” Miller said on his radio show. “(Minnesota) did that, but our guys again were able to have some resolve.”
Johnson in particular turned his shooting performance around and made seven of his 11 second-half attempts from the floor. Meanwhile, Johnson contributed seven rebounds in the game as IU dominated the glass throughout.
The Golden Gophers were without two of their three leading rebounders in sophomore guard Amir Coffey and senior center Reggie Lynch, and the Hoosiers were able to take advantage. IU out-rebounded Minnesota 45-35 and scored 17 second chance points thanks to 17 offensive rebounds. Morgan’s 12 boards and senior forward Freddie McSwain’s eight rebounds provided a boost for IU in that category.
“We were able to get second shots tonight, which was really big,” Miller said. “It was something we didn’t get at Wisconsin.”
The game hung in the balance for most of the second half, but IU was able to hold Minnesota without a field goal for nearly four consecutive minutes to end the game. The Hoosiers stretched the lead out to a more comfortable margin in the final minute thanks to free throws from Morgan and Johnson.
When it was all said and done, Morgan, Johnson and Smith combined for 68 of IU’s 75 points. Guards sophomore Devonte Green and senior Josh Newkirk couldn’t deliver much, but Miller was content riding his productive players through the end of the victory.
With two Big Ten home games waiting on the schedule next week, Miller will hope to see some more of the same finishing ability his Hoosiers flashed Saturday. The coach said he was impressed with the 13-4 run that IU went on to end the game.
“That’s a pride thing right there,” Miller said. “That’s a big step for our team to be able to finish the game.”
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