Before either team scored a point on Sunday afternoon, juniors Juwan Morgan and Zach McRoberts were on the bench with two fouls each.
The Hoosiers were shorthanded before they even made a basket and knew that shots wouldn’t come easily with their leading scorer riding the pine the rest of the first half.
So IU turned to its defense early – and its offense late – to pull away from a struggling Northwestern squad for a 66-46 victory that put the Hoosiers’ record at 11-7 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten.
“The defensive intensity in the first half was excellent,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “I thought in the second half offensively we were much different.”
The Wildcats were the first team on the board with a three-pointer from sophomore forward Aaron Falzon. Then, Northwestern went cold. Ice cold. IU scored 13 consecutive points and held the opposition scoreless for more than seven minutes to build a lead that the Hoosiers never relinquished.
The rest of the first half turned into the sluggish rock fight one would expect with Morgan not on the floor for IU, and Miller said the offense struggled with Northwestern’s zone. The Hoosiers were up 24-19 at the break.
“We were stagnant against the zone and not having Juwan for a good part of that first half obviously impacted our offense not being able to play through them a little bit,” Miller said.
With Morgan back on the floor to start the second half, the Hoosiers found themselves with more spacing and better ball movement as senior guard Robert Johnson took control. Johnson’s 3-pointer, one of five he made in the game, with 13:51 left in the game helped spark another monster run for IU that ultimately put the game well out of reach.
By the time IU was done with its five-minute scoring barrage, the Hoosiers were up 53-26 and still rolling. Johnson hit three of his triples in the second half and finished with a game-high 17 points to go along with six rebounds.
It was Johnson’s third straight game with five or more rebounds. With sophomore forward De’Ron Davis ruled out for the season, Johnson and Miller said the Hoosiers have placed more of an emphasis on guards helping out on the boards. Johnson said Miller has asked for about 12 rebounds per game from his guards.
“Coach is always reminding us throughout the game and at halftime how close we are to that benchmark,” Johnson said. “That’s something that I think we’ve done a pretty good job at.”
Guards led the way all day long for IU, partially due to Morgan’s limited minutes and partially because of what Miller called a “committed” effort from all his players. Senior guard Josh Newkirk and freshman guard Al Durham combined for 17 points and six more rebounds out of the backcourt.
IU moved its way into a three-way tie for third place in the Big Ten thanks to the win over Northwestern, with a game at No. 4 Michigan State awaiting the Hoosiers on Friday. It’ll be the biggest test of the early conference season for IU, which has played a relatively week Big Ten slate thus far.
“We’re going to go back and try to build each day in practice this week,” Johnson said. “I’m sure we’ll be confident when we head down there.”
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