INDIANAPOLIS – The Crossroads Classic showdown between IU and No. 18 Notre Dame came down to a walk-on facing off with the ACC Preseason Player of the Year.
Junior forward Zach McRoberts stood next to Notre Dame’s senior forward Bonzie Colson with 11 seconds left in overtime, and the disparity seemed overtly apparent. Colson had 29 points in the game, and McRoberts had just one. But the IU walk-on had made his presence felt in plenty of other areas on Saturday afternoon, and was poised to do so again.
As Juwan Morgan released a potential game-tying free throw for the Hoosiers, Colson grazed McRoberts before eagerly drifting toward the basket. McRoberts, meanwhile, waited patiently for the long rebound that he jumped up to secure over Colson’s outstretched hands.
Then Morgan cut, McRoberts passed and Morgan dunked. In a matter of seconds, IU grabbed the lead for good in what became an 80-77 victory. When it was all said and done, the Hoosiers scored six points in the final 11 seconds to flip a three-point deficit into a three-point win.
“I was able to get it and then just looking for somebody; J-Mo made a good cut and was able to finish that, so it was a good play,” McRoberts said, and paused before finishing. “For him.”
That was the tone taken by the unsung hero, who made two-thirds of the game-winning play but was quick to note that Morgan was the one who executed. Morgan was the game’s high scorer, and the clear standout on a day when IU had several.
But McRoberts’ nine rebounds, three assists and multitude of unquantifiable contributions drew praise from his coach.
“Tremendous effort all game long,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “You don’t have to score a lot of points to be a terrific teammate, to impact the game.”
McRoberts got on the floor early thanks to a sloppy first half that saw IU trailing 31-25 at the break. Senior guard Josh Newkirk picked up two quick fouls in the first two minutes and wound up fouling out with just nine minutes of action on the court.
That opened the door for McRoberts, who was able to space the floor and feed seniors Robert Johnson and Collin Hartman for several key three-pointers. One week after going scoreless against Louisville, Johnson made 5-10 from behind the arc on his way to a 20-point outing. Miller said Johnson worked tirelessly this week to make up for his poor showing against the Cardinals.
“I tried to go back to the drawing board and see where I was making some mistakes,” Johnson said. “I think today was a step in the right direction.”
It was Johnson’s fifth three-pointer of the day that sparked some life into IU late in the game. The Hoosiers trailed 59-50 when Johnson nailed his jumper, and IU outscored Notre Dame 15-6 in the final five minutes of regulation.
Aside from Johnson’s three-pointer and an overtime triple from sophomore guard Devonte Green, the Hoosiers mainly rolled with Morgan the rest of the way. He scored 16 points in a row for IU between the second half and overtime while forcing Notre Dame to relive the Crossroads Classic nightmare it faced in each of the last two seasons.
Saturday marked the third year in a row that the Irish blew a double-digit lead and lost their Crossroads matchup. Two seasons ago, IU rallied from a 16-point second half deficit to beat Notre Dame. Purdue trailed by 14 at half last year before beating the Irish.
IU moves to 6-5 with the win and has three more non-conference matchups before heading into the last 16 games of its Big Ten schedule. Fort Wayne, which knocked off IU last season, is waiting for the Hoosiers on Monday night. It’ll be just 48 hours after Miller earned his first signature win with IU, and he still sees plenty of room for improvement.
“The number one thing is get back off the clouds and get to work,” Miller said. “We have some guys that aren’t playing particularly well. If they do start to play a little bit better, then our team gets better.”
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