Mosquera-Perea, who started in each of IU’s first 16 games, was the only member of the rotation standing taller than 6-foot-8. He was inconsistent, but at least he was big.
“It’s not always the statistics, but it’s the presence he has, the ground that he covers,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “We’ve got to figure out how to play without him.”
Behind him, IU had no experienced post players. So when the program announced Mosquera-Perea had suffered an injury to his right knee in practice Monday, Crean was faced with two options to replace his starting center.
Freshman forward Emmitt Holt had been effective in limited minutes, but he’s just a freshman. Collin Hartman had played spells at center, but is really more of a wing. Neither was a natural fit to step into the starting lineup against Penn State.
Crean went with Hartman, with mixed results.
The 6-foot-7 sophomore didn’t score a point in the game’s first 28 minutes. He made a couple plays from the perimeter, but couldn’t establish a position inside. Two late 3-pointers and a pair of free throws got him to eight points on the night, but those came with him back in his traditional wing role.
Then Crean tried Holt. That didn’t solve the problem — he scored just one point and didn’t record a rebound. Putting freshman Max Hoetzel at center didn’t work, either.
So Crean tried something different. He put in junior walk-on Ryan Burton, who had played just 36 ?minutes on the season.
Burton checked in with 12:03 remaining in the game and the score tied at 51. IU had pulled in just one ?offensive rebound.
The Hoosiers immediately went on an 18-8 run. In five minutes, Burton grabbed three offensive rebounds, keeping possessions alive and sparking IU to close out a win.
“He came in and he brought us some momentum,” Crean said. “He was ready when his name was called.”
It was Burton’s first appearance in a game since Dec. 22 and just his eighth in an IU uniform.
He was ready anyway. It’s hard not to be, he said, when you play at IU.
“That’s just what this program is all about,” he said. “Play on demand, try to come in with a lot of energy.”
IU has given no timetable for Mosquera-Perea’s return. Crean gave no further updates on the status of the injury.
In the meantime, IU will have to find the balance between what has become a frontcourt-by-committee. Crean couldn’t say whether Burton would receive more minutes going forward, but that his play summed up the performance of his makeshift frontcourt.
It wasn’t glamorous and didn’t fill the box score, but it led to a win.
“It’s not always pretty by any stretch,” Crean said. “But there’s not awards for pretty. There’s awards for winning.”
Sophomore Stanford Robinson put it more simply.
“Without Ryan, who knows what would have happened,” he said.