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Slow start contributes to IU men’s basketball’s loss at Michigan


Sophomore guard Aljami Durham drives the ball against Illinois on Jan. 3 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. Durham finished with six points and three rebounds in IU's loss to Michigan on Sunday. Alex Deryn

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Within the first four minutes of Sunday’s 74-63 road loss at No. 2 Michigan, IU’s two most important players were left clutching white towels on the bench instead of grasping the tan surface of a basketball.

Both senior forward Juwan Morgan and freshman guard Romeo Langford were each whistled for two fouls during the first 3:59 of the game, relegating both of them to a spot on IU’s bench at the Crisler Center.

The precautionary measures taken by IU Coach Archie Miller to temporarily sit his two best offensive players that were in foul trouble helped spark a less-than-ideal, but familiar, start to the game.

IU faced a double-digit deficit less than six minutes into the game, while Langford and Morgan sat idly on fold-out chairs emblazoned with the Michigan logo. That lead would grow to as many as 19 points in the first half.

Against the defending national runners-up and still undefeated Wolverines, this slow start was fatal.

“We’re not ready to be tough at the beginning of the game,” Miller said after the game. “We take a punch, maybe a few too many, and then we sort of get off the ground and get going.”

In addition to foul trouble, IU failed to assert itself on offense in the first half. The Hoosiers made just 12 of their 29 first half shots, while the Wolverines made 18 of their 31 attempts. 

Morgan went an uncharacteristic 4 of 12 from the field himself in the first half, while Langford contributed only two field goals.

“Offensively we missed a ton of easy ones early,” Miller said. “Ones that we had been knocking in here for a good 13 games.”

The Michigan sharpshooting duo of senior guard Charles Matthews and sophomore guard Jordan Poole nearly outscored IU in the first half, as the pair scored 28 points while IU had 29 at the break.

IU battled its way back into game behind 26 combined second-half points from Langford and Morgan, but the comeback petered out short of bringing the game any closer than seven points.

“I don’t think we’ve been as consistent as we need to be to get where we want to go,” Morgan said. “I think we’ve had spurts of it, but digging ourselves into those holes is hard for any team to fight back from.”

In each of IU’s last eight wins, the Hoosiers have come back from a deficit of at least five points. But while opponents like the University of Central Arkansas and Jacksonville University during non-conference play presented opportunities for IU to overcome sluggish starts due to a talent gap, that wasn’t the case Sunday and likely won’t occur often in Big Ten play.

“I think we just kind of got used to it because we’ve been coming back and winning close games at the beginning of the season,” Langford said. “Now, that’s not gonna work for us.”

The early foul trouble Langford and Morgan became entangled in came at an inopportune time for IU, not only because of the opponent, but also because of IU’s injury situation. 

The Hoosiers were missing freshmen Rob Phinisee, Jake Forrester, Race Thompson and Jerome Hunter for Sunday’s game, along with junior forward De’Ron Davis, who informed Miller after warm-ups he could not play due to an ankle injury.

“We just miss his presence out on the floor,” Langford said of Phinisee. “He does a lot of things for us with handling the ball, and also on the defensive end, having an extra body like that gets the guards extra blows, so we can play a little bit harder on defense.”

Michigan maintained healthy advantages in points in the paint, 42-34, points off turnovers, 12-4, and bench scoring, 10-0, over the 40-minute contest.

IU’s injuries and foul trouble forced Miller to turn to a trio of unlikely players for long stretches of the game. Senior forward Evan Fitzner, sophomore forward Clifton Moore and senior guard Zach McRoberts combined for 39 minutes played, 0 points or assists and just two rebounds.

Miller said all three players entered the game ready to play and did their part for the team, but he wished they made a larger offensive imprint.

Still the Hoosiers were reliant on Langford and Morgan for offensive production, regardless of whether foul trouble or an off night happens to plague IU’s showcase players.

“He’s fine, he’s not the problem,” Miller said of Morgan. “He’s been there every game for us.” 

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