As IU coach Archie Miller’s squad limped out of the gate against No. 2 Michigan on Sunday afternoon, the offense sputtered.
Freshman forward Romeo Langford and senior forward Juwan Morgan sat helplessly on the bench with two fouls apiece four minutes into the game.
In their place, a haphazard lineup of redshirt senior guard Zach McRoberts, junior guard Devonte Green, sophomore guard Al Durham and sophomore forwards Clifton Moore and Justin Smith took on the hounding Wolverine defense.
In the nearly three-and-a-half minutes Langford and Morgan sat, Michigan went on a 12-3 run, stretching the score to 21-9.
“Those two guys aren’t on the floor, we’re a different team, offensively and defensively,” Miller said postgame.
Slow starts have been an issue for IU all season, but more prevalent Sunday was the lack of offensive capability beyond Morgan and Langford. Simply put, the Hoosiers still haven't found a reliable No. 3 scorer.
Entering 2018, Miller’s second squad in Bloomington oozed with depth.
A four-man recruiting class headlined by Langford and four-star point guard Rob Phinisee ranked No. 10 nationally.
The veteran contingent of Morgan, an All-Big Ten Second Teamer in 2017, and junior forward De’Ron Davis would provide a fearsome frontcourt.
Smith and McRoberts added valuable rebounding and defensive responsibilities.
Further down the line, Green and Durham have flashed scoring potential throughout their time at IU, giving an ever-hopeful fan base reason to believe a third option could emerge.
Instead, injuries have decimated the roster.
Davis was a last minute scratch against the Wolverines after experiencing discomfort in his ankle during a pregame shoot-around.
Phinisee has been sidelined the last two weeks with a concussion he suffered against Jacksonville University on Dec. 22, 2018.
Redshirt freshman forward Race Thompson and top-50 recruit Jerome Hunter have yet to see the floor this season. Thompson has dealt with a concussion he suffered in practice Nov. 11, 2018, while a mysterious “lower body injury” has plagued Hunter. He underwent surgery in Cleveland on Nov. 14, 2018.
McRoberts and Green have also been hampered by injuries, having sat out four and five games, respectively.
“We're banged up in general right now,” Miller said in November 2018. “So it's going to put pressure on everyone.”
However, the pressure Miller alluded to has yet to inspire a tangible impact from his role players.
The IU roster boasts ample talent. Phinisee, Durham, Smith and Green have all had their moments. But inconsistencies and injuries have limited their long-term impact.
Thus, Langford and Morgan have shouldered the load, combining for 34.9 points per contest in 15 games this season. That equates to roughly 45 percent of IU’s offensive output.
Further, in four conference games, the duo has averaged 37.3 of IU’s 67 points per game, or 55.6 percent of the offense.
That said, IU is 12-3, 3-1 in the Big Ten, and ranked No. 22 in the latest Associated Press top-25 poll.
Sunday’s game against the No. 2-ranked Wolverines magnified the issues that arise when Morgan and Langford are off the court. But with a heavy dose of their two-headed scoring attack, the Hoosiers outscored Michigan 34-30 in the second half.
So while a third scorer could simplify IU’s problems without Morgan and Langford, the Hoosiers have gone toe-to-toe with the nation’s elite with them on the court.
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