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IU's leading forwards are scoring with frequency and efficiency

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Junior forward Juwan Morgan drives to the basket against Iowa Dec. 4 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Morgan left the game with 2:42 left in the first half with an ankle injury and never returned. Bobby Goddin Buy Photos

For the first time in a long time, IU’s best scorers make their killing down low.

A program that’s been led by shooters and slashers in recent years is becoming increasingly reliant on conventional post players to handle the business of putting the ball in the basket.

IU’s 3-point shooting woes are now acutely obvious with the season now about one-third complete. The Hoosiers make less than one in three of their attempts from beyond the arc, and just 24 percent of their total points come on 3-pointers. In each of the last three seasons, IU got between 32 and 36 percent of its points from deep.

The Hoosiers’ long-range limitations could be blamed on poor shooters, obviously. But to spin it another way, IU Coach Archie Miller has two proficient post scorers the likes of which the Hoosiers haven’t had in years.

Sophomore forward De’Ron Davis and junior forward Juwan Morgan, IU’s two leading scorers, have shown the ability to score with relative ease against any competition thrown their way. Morgan in particular, who paces the Hoosiers with 14.1 points per game, has become a steady presence with at least 14 points in six of IU’s last seven games.

“He's our most consistent player right now,” Miller said of Morgan. “Defensively he's one of our most consistent guys as well. We need him out there.”

One reason why IU has been able to shift its point distribution toward the lay-ins and putbacks that Davis and Morgan have provided is their efficiency. Even against Duke’s NBA caliber frontcourt that IU’s post duo faced two weeks ago, Morgan and Davis combined to make 11 of their 16 shot attempts.

Both forwards rank in the top 10 in the Big Ten in field goal percentage. Davis makes 66 percent of his shots, good for second in the Big Ten. In Morgan’s last seven games, he’s made 62 percent of his attempts.

Though Morgan has shown he’s a capable back-to-the-basket player, Davis is more of the traditional post-up big man. Morgan earns his keep by scrapping on the offensive glass and flying around the paint on offense. You don’t have the third-most offensive rebounds in the Big Ten with a complacent mindset. Morgan treats every shot by his teammates as a rebound waiting to happen.

“Although I know they think it's going in, I always think it's a miss,” Morgan said after a win over Iowa last week. “Just getting on the glass, things like that, create all the opportunities for me.”

With just four more nonconference games separating IU and the remainder of its Big Ten schedule, now Miller needs consistency from his lead guys. Morgan seems to be establishing his reliability. Davis’ frequent foul trouble and shakier stamina, however, mean he’s still turning in four-point outings like he did against Michigan on Dec. 2.

When Davis and Morgan are able to each put up double digits on a regular basis, a strong 3-point team effort in a given game should mean automatic victories. IU is 3-0 when it makes eight or more 3s in a game this season.

In the rare instances where the Hoosiers are hitting their jumpers, Morgan and Davis have been there to ensure victory. And when the shots aren’t falling, it’s occasionally been only those two who’ve provided a spark.

Last Saturday, after a loss to Louisville in which Morgan and Davis led IU in scoring and the Hoosiers missed 12 second-half 3-point attempts, the big men stayed upbeat. They controlled what they could, and Morgan did say he’s sensing a shift in attitude and confidence. With he and Davis as reliable as ever, if the 3-pointers follow, the wins could too.

“More and more people are starting to buy in, and I think we as a team are progressing together,” Morgan said. “It’s not just one person and then a couple others.”

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