We’ve seen it twice this year. An outstanding performance followed by a disappointing loss.
It happened after almost knocking off then-No. 1 Duke, and it happened after IU defeated then-No. 18 Notre Dame.
The Hoosiers wouldn’t let it happen a third time, however, as they defeated Penn State Tuesday night at home 74-70.
Junior forward Juwan Morgan once again led the charge for IU with his sixth double-double of the season, scoring 21 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. It’s become a common trend, and if the Hoosiers have any chance of success for the rest of the year, it’s going to be because of Morgan’s performance and consistency.
Even when IU fell to Michigan and Fort Wayne due to abysmal performances, Morgan still delivered quality basketball. The problem was the rest of his teammates’ play in both of those matchups.
In Ann Arbor, Morgan was the only Hoosier who scored in double digits and was one of two players who eclipsed the 10-point mark against Fort Wayne. Those types of performances aren’t going to win you basketball games no matter who goes up against IU, and they fixed that mistake on Tuesday night.
Against Penn State, five Hoosiers scored in double digits for the first time this season. Senior guard Josh Newkirk had one of his best games of the season but it wasn't due to his 16 points and four assists. He had a great game because he had a goose-egg in the turnover column. IU Coach Archie Miller’s point guard had zero turnovers, something head coaches dream about.
“This time of the year in January you want your guys attacking,” Miller said. “You don't want to have to coach them on every dribble and every pass. You've got to give these guys the freedom to make some plays and be aggressive. I think we're trying to get our guards to make more plays. But I think the big thing is our attitude as a team is pretty good right now.”
Senior guard Robert Johnson had a lackluster game shooting the ball, but contributed elsewhere which helped his team get past a pesky Nittany Lion team that wouldn’t go away down the stretch.
Add that to sophomore guard Devonte Green’s efficient 13 points and senior forward Collin Hartman’s 10 points in his first game back from a shoulder injury and you get five different Hoosiers in double figures.
Beautiful, spread out basketball. It was the perfect recipe for the Hoosiers coming off of a game where three players combined for 68 of their 75 total points.
The bench came to life in this one, too, outscoring Penn State’s 25-1, led by Green and Hartman.
One of the dark spots shadowed over freshman forward Justin Smith’s performance. Following his career game at Minnesota, Smith finished with a two-point dud in just six minutes after getting into foul trouble early on.
IU also did a great job of responding to opponents’ buckets with some of their own. Time and time again we’ve seen this team fall behind or blow a cushioned lead because of lazy defense and turnovers. The Hoosiers did a great job of avoiding that problem and it helped that one of their leaders, Hartman, was there to keep them out of that rough.
Everything seemed to be gelling a little bit better tonight for Miller & Co. and it seemed like this team might be turning the corner after following up a solid win with another in consecutive games. It was a crucial game for IU to win with a rough patch of No. 5 Purdue, Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan on the horizon.
Who knows? Maybe IU can snatch one or two quality wins against the top of the Big Ten with the momentum that they are currently riding. The only question that remains is if they can play quality basketball at a consistent level. We haven’t seen that yet this season.
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