Indiana Daily Student

IU's freshmen vital in IU's Big Ten title

Freshman forward Juwan Morgan goes up to the basket to attempt a layup. Morgan scored 12 points for the Hoosiers, helping them beat Nebraska 80-64 Feb. 17 at Assembly Hall.
Freshman forward Juwan Morgan goes up to the basket to attempt a layup. Morgan scored 12 points for the Hoosiers, helping them beat Nebraska 80-64 Feb. 17 at Assembly Hall.

The Hoosiers wouldn’t be Big Ten champions without them.

They have never stopped improving as the year went on, and as their roles continued to grow, so did their ability.

This is what IU Coach Tom Crean said of his freshmen class after IU’s 81-78 win at Iowa on Thursday that clinched an outright Big Ten title for the Hoosiers.

“They have confidence in each other,” Crean said. “I like to think I have tremendous confidence in those guys. If they’re in the game, then they need to impact the game. That’s the most important thing.”

It wasn’t just the effort of the four freshmen Crean applauded. He said his entire bench proved vital in a game where four of IU’s five starters were in foul trouble at one point or another.

Simply looking at the box score underscores the bench’s effect on the game. Senior forward Max Bielfeldt led the bench in scoring with eight points, but the four players who came off the bench combined to play 61 minutes.

“We work on it in practice every time,” junior forward Troy Williams said. “We don’t always go first group versus second group — it’s just random matches of five on five. We go after anything Coach wants us to do in practice so at any given moment you’re ready to go on the court.”

But it was the play of freshmen center Thomas Bryant, freshmen forwards Juwan Morgan and OG Anunoby and freshmen guard Harrison Niego that was most impressive. There was a point late in the first half when Williams and junior forward Collin Hartman were sitting on the bench with three fouls each in the first half and senior guard Yogi Ferrell was on the bench with two fouls of 
his own.

The three of them watched as all four IU freshmen closed the half with senior guard Nick Zeisloft and actually extended the lead going into halftime.

The play continued into the second half.

Freshman forward Juwan Morgan made a 3-pointer for the fourth consecutive game, and freshman forward OG Anunoby grabbed three rebounds away from Hawkeyes in the span of a minute in the second half.

“OG and Juwan played like monsters tonight,” Ferrell said. “For them to be freshmen, for them to play the way that they played, I would say they were the definite MVPs of this game.”

As the Hoosiers have improved this season, so have the freshmen. All four went through their own struggles at the start of the season, just like most freshmen in college basketball.

But as the season progressed, and as they became more comfortable in Bloomington and with each other, things started to change.

What changed most is how much they critique each other. Not in the film room or the practice court, which is still important, but during games.

“When you’re connected like that and you care about one another you take that in a good way,” Crean said. “There’s not a question of why are you getting on me. When you don’t know each other really well it’s really easy for it to go the other way.”

As all this has happened, the Hoosiers have improved. The freshmen became more experienced and went through natural improvement. They also recovered from some early season 
injuries.

Now, they really aren’t freshmen.

“These guys have continued to grow and I don’t think anyone looks at these freshmen or walk ons and looks at them any differently than themselves,” Crean said.

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