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Behind its improved defense, IU stifles Minnesota


Senior guard Josh Newkirk dunks the ball in the second half of the Hoosiers' game against the Minnesota Gophers on Friday at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers beat the Gophers, 80-56. Evan De Stefano

The pack-line defense is built to be suffocating for opposing offenses. 

That’s especially the case when its working at peak potency, cutting off drives and forcing turnovers. It’s taken time, but with the regular season nearing its conclusion, IU looks like it has figured out the defensive system IU Coach Archie Miller brought with him from Dayton. 

In the past two games, IU’s defense has been nearly the best it has been all season. Putting together another strong defensive effort, IU defeated Minnesota 80-56 Friday night. 

“I think you’re starting to see a group that’s committed to play a certain way right now,” Miller said. “We caught Minnesota at rough time with their injuries, but I thought our guys were locked in, ready to play. We continued to establish the intensity level that we like.”

It’s been a season of improvement for the Hoosiers. After falling to Indiana State and Fort Wayne largely due its defense, the unit has become the backbone of this team. IU held Minnesota to 33.3-percent shooting less than a week after holding Rutgers to 24.1-percent shooting Monday. 

“Really just having one another’s back, especially in rotations,” junior forward Juwan Morgan said. “I know because after Purdue, that was a huge emphasis for us. Just helping each other in rotations. I think those last two games, we’ve done that.”

Minnesota came into the game on a six-game losing streak and IU didn’t let the Golden Gophers look like had a chance to end that streak. The Hoosiers led the entire game after they got out to a quick 10-point lead in less than eight minutes. 

“The energy level is up,” Miller said. “Guys are really working on the ball, which is something we’ve struggled with at times this year, just not tough enough on the ball. From a positioning standpoint, from an energy level off the ball, I think guys are really aware.”

Miller also said he credits time playing with each other as a key factor in why the defense has found success in conference play. They’ve gotten experience in his system and it’s showing. Since losing to Fort Wayne in December, IU has not given up more than 71 points. 

Following four straight losses to some of the best teams in the conference, IU has now won back-to-back games by over 20 points. Through those narrow losses, the Hoosiers got better. 

“The fight that they are playing with win, lose or draw hasn’t changed,” Miller said. “I think they understand what we have to do to be competitive, how hard we have to play in those games. In those games, you’re playing against Purdue, you’re playing against Michigan State, you’re right there and you don’t get it done while I’ve never seen these guys quit.”

It wasn’t just IU’s defense working well Friday — its offense has found a new gear with sophomore guard Devonte Green inserted into the starting lineup. Green, who started his second consecutive game, had 19 points and helped pace IU’s offense. The Hoosiers shot 56.6-percent from the field against the Golden Gophers and had 21 assists on 30 made baskets. 

“We’ve really just been emphasizing sharing the ball and making the right read, driving to pass,” Green said. “So, I think it’s been a big help the last couple of games.”

Only four games remain for IU this season, but the Hoosiers have found their stride on both ends of the court late in the year and they now sit at 14-12 overall. With its improved defense, IU has found a way to salvage this season by showing exactly why Miller was hired. 

"Every game moving forward really matters to our guys,” Miller said. “I think they understand right now that they have a chance to beat anybody they play.”

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