The Hoosiers expected to win.
Every basketball team that steps on a court, with the possible exception of the Washington Generals, has confidence it will walk off victorious.
So even though IU men’s basketball came into Wednesday night’s game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall against No. 1 Duke unranked, the Hoosiers expected to finish what they nearly accomplished.
IU delivered a nearly complete performance and had a late lead against the nation’s best. Coach Archie Miller wasn’t happy with the 91-81 loss in front of an electric home crowd but found positives to glean nonetheless.
“The intensity level and the physicality that was in there tonight, that’s what it’s going to be like every night,” Miller said. “It should give us some confidence that if we can compete like this for 35 or 36 minutes, let’s put it together for 40.”
Up until the 5:26 mark in the second half, Miller’s Hoosiers had taken every punch the Blue Devils offered and were ready to give one back. A layup from senior forward Collin Hartman gave the Hoosiers a 75-74 lead, but it was the last field goal IU made in the game.
A series of inconsistent trips to the free-throw line cost IU down the stretch, while Duke steadily hit key jumpers and knocked down freebies of its own.
In the next four games, IU will face two conference foes and two more ranked opponents. With an eye toward the future, Miller said the little things that hurt his team against Duke should be easily fixable moving forward.
“What we weren’t able to do tonight was the simple ABC things,” Miller said.
The coach mentioned that hitting two free throws in a row was a struggle at times. IU shot 16-26 from the charity stripe. Miller also lamented the Hoosiers’ struggle to hit an open shot. They made only five 3-pointers and missed 16.
But the level of execution, for at least most of the night, drew praise from Miller. His players recognized their success too. Senior guard Robert Johnson, though a dismal 1-6 on 3-pointers, had 17 points and just two turnovers in 33 minutes. He said he hopes that now the Hoosiers will recognize what they need to do in the upcoming stretch.
“This gave us sort of an identity and a standard,” Johnson said. “A baseline level of we need to play that hard and that intense every night.”
Other encouraging signs came to the forefront in the primetime game for IU too. Hartman played his second game back from injury and scored 11 points in 16 minutes. Sophomore forward De’Ron Davis scored 12 second-half points and didn’t foul out after picking up two quick infractions in the first three minutes of the game.
Games to come might not be the near-perfect storm that Wednesday night was, but Miller’s confidence in the perpetual winning expectation has only increased. With a 4-3 record and the Big Ten schedule staring IU in the eyes, there won’t be many more feel-good, near-wins.
“Learning how to win that type of game is just so important to your program as you go forward,” Miller said. “If you do, it spearheads the belief in sort of what you’re doing. But make no mistake, it’s about winning the game.”
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