It wasn’t pretty, but it could have gone much worse for IU inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Sunday night.
Playing against a Howard team that entered the game ranked 342 out of 351 Division I teams in the KenPom ratings, IU had to hang on for all 40 minutes to avoid a winless opening weekend.
The end result was an 86-77 win for the Hoosiers (1-1) that never seemed to be a sure thing until the final buzzer sounded. But IU Coach Archie Miller was pleased with the outcome — and willing to live with the way his team got there — after suffering a 21-point home loss to Indiana State on Friday.
“I think that that type of a loss early in the season can really not only knock you on your heels, but can shake you a little bit,” Miller said. “So we focused on moving on as fast as we possibly could.”
IU did just that and became more aggressive on the offensive end against the zone defense Howard brought to Bloomington. Things started slow though, as IU found itself trailing 17-16 with 7:04 remaining in the first half.
The Hoosiers struggled with both their selection and success on 3-pointers early. But after freshman guard Al Durham hit IU’s second and third 3-point shots of the night, the Hoosiers went up 19-17 to grab the lead for good.
If Durham and fellow freshman Justin Smith were the surprises Sunday, sophomore forward De’Ron Davis was the consistent presence. He had 15 of his 17 points after the break, when IU led 37-27.
Despite struggling his way to a 3-of-10 night at the free throw line, Davis made 7 of 9 field goal attempts and dished out three assists, which drew praise from Miller. The coach said he was worried Howard’s zone defense might cause IU guards to focus on perimeter shots and ignore the paint.
“If (Davis) gets it that deep down there, he’s very crafty in and around the basket,” Miller said. “He can use the rim. When he gets in position, we trust him.”
For the second game in a row, IU was killed by the 3-point shot on defense. After Indiana State hit 17 shots from deep Friday, Howard came out and knocked down 13 more Sunday.
Howard’s 3-point percentage (38.2 percent) was about half of Indiana State’s on Friday though, which allowed IU to keep the Bison’s scoring total in check for the most part. The defense is key with Miller, as it’s been made clear from the outset. Durham, who exploded for 16 points, simplified the motivation for IU to buckle down on the other end.
“If you can’t play defense, then you can’t play, really,” Durham said.
Allowing more than 80 points per game through a topsy-turvy opening weekend doesn’t exactly show that IU is suddenly a defensive stalwart, but certain aspects show improvement. Against both Howard and Indiana State, IU held the opposition to worse shooting percentages on 2-point attempts than 3-point attempts.
When IU travels to play No. 23 Seton Hall on Wednesday for the first road game of the season, the 3-point shot will be a defensive focus for Miller. But he wants to see more in other areas too.
“We’re going to have to get a lot more physical, we’re going to have to get a lot tougher and Wednesday is going to be a great opportunity to kind of see how that works,” Miller said.