They vowed it wouldn’t happen again.
After getting dominated at Michigan State on Jan. 19, some of IU’s forwards met as a group and collectively decided something had to change when the two teams faced off again.
Outmanned and undersized on the frontline for the third consecutive game, the Hoosiers battled and didn’t get overwhelmed by the Spartans’ wave of size. Instead, it was IU’s frontline that kept the game within reach, though it wasn’t enough as No. 5 Michigan State won 63-60 Saturday.
IU's frontline against the Spartans featured junior forward Juwan Morgan, senior forwards Freddie McSwain Jr. and Collin Hartman, along with freshman forward Justin Smith.
“In East Lansing they punked us,” junior forward Juwan Morgan said. “In a few words, that's what happened. We came to this mindset, I know me, Freddie, Collin and Justin, we talked amongst each other and we were, like, this can't happen.”
Outrebounded by 18 in their last meeting, the Hoosiers turned the tables on the Spartans. Behind a monster effort on the glass from McSwain, IU outrebounded Michigan State by 24 Saturday.
With IU’s guards struggling to connect from the perimeter and the length of Michigan State greatly affecting IU down low, the Hoosiers needed as many shots as they could.
On the offensive glass, IU outrebounded Michigan State 25-3 after the Spartans came into the game ranked fifth in the country in total rebounds per game. IU’s 25 offensive rebounds were the most in a game since the 1996-97 season.
“That’s probably one of the things that helped us, being able to get those extra shots,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “Being able to outrebound is probably one of the reasons we were able to hang around.”
McSwain was a key reason why IU had so much success on the glass. With junior guard Zach McRoberts hampered by foul trouble for most of the evening, McSwain was asked to play a bigger role for the Hoosiers and he delivered. His 16 rebounds were a career-high.
“That's what he does every day,” Morgan said. “He attacks the glass relentlessly. The way we see it, nobody can keep him off the glass.”
Since sophomore forward De’Ron Davis was lost for the season, IU’s frontcourt was severely depleted, but that didn’t show Saturday against the likes of Michigan’s State sophomore forwards Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. McSwain earned his second career start and held the Spartans in check and bludgeoned them on the glass with his effort.
“I just wanted to really, just going out every day and just playing my hardest,” McSwain said. “Every time opportunity is called, start or coming off the bench, I say just come in and help the team do whatever to help the team win.”
McSwain complemented Morgan who had his seventh double-double of the season with 23 points and 11 rebounds. His offense in the second half kept the Hoosiers in the game and they turned to him nearly every time they needed a basket. After being limited in the first half, he had 19 points in the second half.
“I kept attack mindset,” Morgan said. “In the first half I was getting blocked a couple times. I was just missing some easy bunnies. I didn't let it derail me from going into the post, doing what's been working for me all year.”
Morgan along with McSwain have been tasked with a nearly-impossible task going up against big guy after big guy every single night in the Big Ten.
The results haven’t necessarily lined up the effort of the undersized frontline, but the Hoosiers nearly stole a game against one of the best teams in the nation because of those undersized options outworking a talent-laden Michigan State frontline.
“Cleary the inside play here lately really has taken its toll on us quite a bit,” Miller said. “The last couple of front line we’ve played have obviously been very good. So, you’re getting a taste of what really good depth and size can do to you if you don’t have enough bodies. But we had enough in the tank tonight.”
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