Sophomore forward Justin Smith has a flair for the dramatic.
His highlight reel dunks have littered television sets across America. Tip-slams, leaps from the foul line, under-the-basket reverses — Smith can do it all.
But in Saturday’s 70-55 loss at Purdue, he wasn’t soaring around the rim. Rather, Smith was clinical.
“He was just getting to his spots,” senior forward Juwan Morgan said. “Not so much driving, it was mainly getting to the corner while someone else was driving, seeing him, hitting him, taking the one-two, making the open shots and then getting on the offensive glass too.”
While freshman guard Romeo Langford toiled through foul trouble and a visible mental block at Mackey Arena, it wasn’t Morgan carrying the IU offense, but Smith.
His first bucket of the afternoon came as Purdue smothered the Hoosiers early. Leaping for and recovering an offensive rebound, Smith gathered, jumped, shot and drained a leaning one-handed shot off the glass. The Hoosiers trailed 6-2.
Minutes later, Smith found himself free in the left-hand corner. Catching, squaring and releasing, he drained the shot from the wing, cutting the Purdue lead to three.
The sophomore forward totaled nine points on four of five shooting along with three rebounds in the opening frame.
“I think Justin stepped up tonight and played a really good game for himself,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “Hopefully he can build on that and have some confidence.”
With Smith leading the charge, the Hoosiers gained a semblance of momentum. IU gained its first lead of the game, 18-17, with 8:51 remaining in the half. Morgan stretched the difference to three with a layup minutes later.
But the hard-charging Purdue offense came alive late in the first half, outscoring IU 12-2 over the final 5:09 of the frame before coasting to victory in the second half.
There were few positives to glean from Saturday’s loss. In all, IU led for a grand total of 2:25 and finished an abysmal 7 of 18 from the free throw line.
That said, Miller’s ongoing hunt for a third scoring option outside of Morgan and Langford may finally have taken a turn.
Despite notching double digits six times this season, Saturday was Smith’s first double-figure scoring output against a team in the top-220 of the KenPom rankings this season.
So while his effort didn’t equate to victory in West Lafayette, Indiana, Smith proved he can be an offensive threat away from the basket as well as above the rim.
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