The numbers speak for themselves.
IU held Northwestern to 26.8-percent shooting Sunday, tied for the second lowest percentage in conference play since the 1996-1997 season. The Wildcats’ point total of 46 was tied for the third lowest by a Hoosier opponent in that time span as well.
Under first-year head coach Archie Miller, IU’s defense has taken a huge step forward and against Northwestern Sunday, helped the Hoosiers win 66-46, their third straight victory.
After sophomore forward De’Ron Davis tore his Achilles and was lost for the season, IU’s defense had to adapt to survive. Instead of relying on size to defend, the Hoosiers have turned to speed to compensate.
“We’re quicker, we are a lot more mobile,” Miller said. “Especially with our frontcourt as De’Ron goes down, you get faster. Just inevitability the guys that are in the game are quicker and move better. Just keeping the ball out of the post has been a big key for us here.”
Northwestern’s shooters did not get many comfortable looks all game long and only late in the game that the Wildcats hit many shots at all. IU held Northwestern’s leading scorer guard Scottie Lindsey to one of 15 shooting and only two points.
In both halves, IU held Northwestern scoreless for long period of times. Its defense led to good offense. In the first half, IU held Northwestern scoreless for over eight minutes, allowing IU to go on a 13-0. In the second half, IU held Northwestern scoreless for over five minutes.
Going up against an experienced Northwestern team, IU’s defense forced 17 turnovers as the Hoosiers’ pressure was too much for the Wildcats to handle at times.
“I think one of the things that we knew once De'Ron went out was we were going to be smaller so we're going to have to pick up our intensity and our ball pressure,” senior guard Robert Johnson said. “And I think we've caused a little more turnovers, guys are putting that much more of an effort towards defense and I think it's been good for us.”
Not only did IU force Northwestern into poor shots, the Hoosiers kept the Wildcats off the free throw line. Northwestern only got to the line nine times and struggled to get to the rim.
After struggling early in the season, IU’s defense has become its backbone in the past three games. Miller’s team has been buying into his system and finding chemistry on the defensive end.
“I definitely would say it's being more connected,” Johnson said. “When we're out there, I can feel guys talking more, putting forth a better effort, trying to not let the man to their right or to their left down. So, I think we're more connected and there's better communication.”
As conference play is nearly a third of the way complete, there has been an uptick in effort and intensity from the Hoosiers.
“Just having a locked in approach,” senior guard Josh Newkirk said. “All five guys talking, staying in the gaps and just fishing the play off with a rebound.”
With the Hoosiers adapting after losing Davis, a new identity is being formulated. IU isn’t going to have an explosive offense, but the defense is leading to victories.
As IU faces the best teams in the conference in the coming weeks, the Hoosiers will have to replicate this type of effort to win.
“I think on the defensive end it's probably been our best game thus far,” Johnson said. “And I think if we can build on that and continue to tighten a couple of things up on the offensive side we'll be in a good spot.”
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