There was an empty chair in the IPFW bench section Wednesday.
That one red chair in Assembly Hall was bent all the way backward at just shy of a 90 degree angle.
That’s because freshman guard Harrison Niego went barreling through it in the second half of a 90-65 IU win. A walk-on player who had played 16 minutes in his first nine games, Niego had a breakout performance Wednesday despite not attempting a shot.
The highlight of the chair play seemed to be an explosive block by junior forward Troy Williams — his fourth of the night. But as the ball made its way toward the Mastadon bench, Niego sprinted with it and caught the ball as he began leaping near the seats.
He turned in mid-air and tried to toss it back in bounds, yet he was already called out of bounds and flying into the metal chair.
He rolled onto the red Assembly Hall carpet and received a standing ovation as he walked back to the court.
Oh, and he apologized after the game for breaking the chair.
Niego played 12 minutes against IPFW and IU Coach Tom Crean said he played to his personality. By that analysis, Niego’s personality seems to be hard-nosed and the type that could be crucial to IU.
“He’s got a lot to give,” Crean said.
In his postgame comments, Niego was confident and witty. He joked back and forth with the team spokesperson. He didn’t look all that surprised to already be earning time with the media.
It was the little things Niego did, like diving for a ball on its way out after an exciting play by a teammate.
“I didn’t really second guess myself,” Niego said. “That’s just how I play.”
Crean said IPFW shot 5-of-20 when Niego was on the floor. The Hoosiers outscored the Dons by nine in that time as well.
He could be seen touching the ball on the perimeter for just about a second before dishing it to sophomore guard Robert Johnson for an easy 3-pointer.
Then, he was booking it back on defense during an IPFW fast break and set up in front of the basket as if to take a charge. There was no charge, but Niego’s body was enough to force an ugly missed layup.
It’s important to remember Niego played so much because of other guards getting in early foul trouble, but if Crean’s comments were honest, he could see more time.
He could provide a toughness and a selflessness that can set up for other playmakers. He even said helping playmakers is one of his skills.
And despite me saying his stat sheet was quiet, Niego’s four rebounds still doubled the amount by freshman center Thomas Bryant.
Yes, you might get mad at me for not writing about the guard who scored 38 points or the forward who pulled down 19 rebounds. But I think we have always known those two players are capable of big numbers.
It was nice to see a player like Niego — who had to leave the pregame meal early to take an exam — have a nice day in the spotlight for doing the little things.
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