In its first road test of the season, IU failed.
IU, now 3-1 overall, suffered a 73-72 loss to Arkansas, now 2-1 overall, on Sunday afternoon in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and the game was anything but pretty.
Here’s three takeaways from the contest.
1. IU is a really young team and Sunday was a reminder of that.
IU was lauded for its depth entering the 2018-19 season.
It was on full display in Wednesday’s thrashing of No. 24 Marquette. But Sunday, south of the Mason-Dixon line, IU’s depth turned to inexperience and youth.
For the second straight game, the Hoosiers were without junior guard Devonte Green and senior guard Zach McRoberts. Once more, guards freshman Rob Phinisee and sophomore Al Durham were tasked with holding down the backcourt. But unlike the Marquette game, Phinisee and Durham’s inexperience became evident.
Phinisee picked up two quick fouls and played just 13 minutes in the first half. Durham maintained his offensive renaissance with three three-pointers in the first frame, but was impatient while running the offense.
Further, freshman forward Damezi Anderson, who looked bound for a redshirt before injuries also forced him into the rotation, played 26 minutes Sunday. This isn’t to say Anderson is a completely useless piece, but he was lost, at best, against the Razorbacks.
Phinisee did knock down a clutch three in the closing seconds to keep the Hoosiers close. Yet with seven seconds remaining, he attempted a layup that turned into a foul committed by junior forward De'Ron Davis, and a resulting free throw from Arkansas sophomore guard Mason Jones provided the home team with the winning point.
Within 41 seconds, Phinisee had perfectly encapsulated the good and bad that comes with so many young playmakers.
If Sunday proves anything, it’s that when two upperclassmen guards sit on the bench and you’re forced to rely on youth, it’s not a recipe for wins, especially in a difficult road environment.
2. The Hoosiers cannot defend the post.
For all the size and length this IU squad has, Arkansas exploited how thin the Hoosiers are underneath.
Daniel Gafford was a man among boys against the lowly IU post defense Sunday. In 31 minutes the 6-foot-11, 234-pound sophomore forward totaled 27 points and 12 rebounds on 12-of-15 shooting for the Razorbacks.
The Hoosiers tried everything from fronting Gafford with undersized senior forward Juwan Morgan, to putting him on an island with the equally large Davis and even double-teaming him. None of it worked.
Some of this domination was simply Gafford’s ability. He’s projected as a first round-to-late lottery pick by most NBA draft pundits and his combination of size and footwork is a thing of beauty. But that doesn’t excuse IU’s inability to defend.
Granted, there are few big men in the Big Ten, or even the country who possess Gafford’s size and finishing capability. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ is perhaps the closest comparison IU will face.
Though this isn’t the kind of player IU will face week-in-and-week-out, IU Coach Archie Miller and company need to find a better game plan when faced with another dominant big man.
If not, they’ll get smacked in the mouth again and again, as Gafford did all afternoon.
3. IU will go as far as Juwan Morgan carries them.
Seemingly every preseason headline in America regarding IU involved Langford – and rightfully so.
In his first four collegiate games, the silent superstar from New Albany, Indiana, has been as advertised. Langford notched his second 20-point game in as many contests with 22 points against Arkansas.
But as onlookers learned Sunday, this is Morgan’s team. Morgan scored 15 points and added seven rebounds in the second half, after foul trouble limited him to just three minutes played in the first half.
Trailing by 10 with 14:16 remaining in the game, Morgan willed the Hoosiers to a 10-0 run to bring the game even. Later, Morgan drained a three-pointer from the right-hand corner to tie the game at 63 with 5:46 remaining.
Differently put, in moments that IU’s youth looked chaotic, Morgan found comfort.
While Langford is rarely one to show emotion, Morgan’s bursts of energy in key moments encapsulate the heart and soul of this IU team.
This roster is littered with youthful talent, but Morgan is the glue that brings it together. If IU is to rebound from this loss and flex their muscle in the Big Ten, it will start and end with the senior leader.
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