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COLUMN: IU played a near-perfect game for 36 minutes, but it wasn’t enough

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Junior forward Juwan Morgan dunks the ball against Duke on Wednesday evening in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. IU will play Duke again this season at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina. Bobby Goddin Buy Photos

IU played its best basketball of the season for 36 minutes against No. 1 Duke, but the problem was that it wasn’t for all 40 minutes of the game.

It was a neck-and-neck fight for almost the entirety of the night, and the Hoosiers nearly pulled off the upset against the No. 1 team in the country. The student section was the most electric and the loudest it has been in the last two years. 

In basketball, the home team usually feeds off of the crowd’s energy, but on Wednesday night, the roles were flipped. It was the Hoosiers who were the ones giving off an aura that truly felt like Goliath was going to be toppled in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, and the crowd loved every minute of it.

IU had nothing to lose, and they played the perfect game almost to the tee. Right until they didn’t.

Even when it seemed like Duke would pull away at multiple points in the game, IU found a way to make a big bucket or come up with a huge defensive effort to rally back. The guard play from senior guards Josh Newkirk and Robert Johnson was exceptional throughout the night, and for the first time this season, they stepped up in a big game when their team needed them the most.

Credit the freshman guard Al Durham, who hit a big 3-pointer to keep the Hoosiers in attacking distance to the Blue Devils in the thick of the second half. He started in place of sophomore guard Devonte Green in what was the biggest game of his young career, and he did his part to help the team.

Sophomore forward De’Ron Davis got into foul trouble early in the game, picking up two fouls in the first five minutes. While he was benched for the majority of the half, junior forward Juwan Morgan stepped up in his place and was IU’s MVP in the first period.

Morgan provided a spark on both ends of the floor, limiting Marvin Bagley’s looks down low and causing havoc in the post on the offensive end. If it wasn’t for him, IU would’ve been out of the game before the first-half buzzer even sounded.

Coming into the game, I said that IU needed to have a collective effort as a team if they wanted to have any chance against such a talented and stout Duke team, and that’s exactly what they did. The bench provided 21 points led by Green and senior forward Collin Hartman, who combined for 19 of those.

The Hoosiers showed more fight and heart than any other game this season, and it was the deciding factor between a tight, back-and-forth game, and a blowout against arguably the most talented team in the country. 

They had a tall task to complete, and they nearly executed to perfection. Questionable foul calls led to many free throws for both teams down the stretch, and that’s where the game was decided. Davis missed four of his last six free throw attempts, which gave Duke the opportunity to extend its lead on the other end of the court.

Free throws have been a lingering issue for IU at different points of the season, especially against Howard, where it nearly cost them a win. Tonight, it did.

You can point fingers at the referees all you want, and it would be justified, but the Hoosiers couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities they were given at the charity stripe.

Even though it ended up in a losing effort, this team showed fight and promise for the future of this season. The hard work that IU Coach Archie Miller has put in with his players could be seen Wednesday night, and they showed they are improving as the season goes along.

Tonight just wasn’t their night. They fell to a young and talented team, who outmatched them in every aspect coming into the game. The Hoosiers played a nearly perfect game. They just needed a little bit more to pull off the upset.


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