On a night when IU’s archetypal heroes played to the crowd, it was Purdue’s pantomime villain who brought silence to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Jeered and sneered at all night by the IU student section, barely a moment went by during Purdue’s 48-46 win without a rude remark or gesture made toward Boilermaker sophomore center Matt Haarms.
But it was the faintest of touches from Haarms with 3.2 seconds to go, as he rose above IU senior forward Juwan Morgan, to tip in a missed shot from junior guard Carsen Edwards, which brought all that noise to an abrupt and lasting end.
Edwards’ 20th missed shot presented a chance for Haarms and Morgan, the representation of good and evil to the Bloomington crowd, to try and grab the ball in the final seconds with the game tied at 46.
Haarms won out.
“A hundred percent I think I had position,” Morgan said of the attempt.
And when Morgan’s 3-point shot at the buzzer, which came with Haarms closing down on him, barely hit the rim, it allowed Haarms to wheel his 7-foot-3-inch frame toward his on-rushing teammates and meet them midair for a chest bump.
Given the final score to Tuesday night’s contest, the two ways to approach the game were to view it as either a defensive masterclass or an offensive nightmare.
Both teams combined to make just 34 of their 115 shot attempts, Edwards went a woeful 4-24 shooting field goals and freshman guard Romeo Langford’s 14 points were a game-high.
In lieu of scoring, intensity and tenacity were the defining characteristics of what is likely to be the final installment of the IU-Purdue series this season.
“It's probably as physical of a basketball game that I've ever been a part of,” IU Coach Archie Miller said. “The team that took the floor tonight had a great disposition, and that's the thing that needs to stay.”
Prior to the game, talk surrounding IU, now 13-13 overall and 4-11 in conference play, focused on “drastic changes” referenced by Miller following last week’s loss at Minnesota.
The increased communication, energy and on-court focus sought by Miller and his staff came to fruition through the play of Morgan, Langford and junior forward De’Ron Davis, and was reciprocated by a sellout Assembly Hall crowd.
While Morgan struggled to convert his usual drives to the basket, settling for his second-worst shooting game of the season with a 3-14 effort, he led all players in the game with 11 rebounds.
When he made a basket through contact in the first half, he briefly flexed his muscles then beat his chest twice, a celebration reminiscent of the swagger IU played with during nonconference play.
“He’s been the leader that we’ve needed him to be through this hard time,” Langford said. “He hasn’t shied away from this stretch we’re going on.”
Langford vomited behind the IU bench just before the second half began, but fought through to return, scoring five points in the second period, all via free throws, and also tie his season-high with nine defensive rebounds.
“He's a gamer, man,” Miller said. “I think no one understands more than him how important he is to the team.”
But juxtaposing Haarms, it was Davis who energized the crowd and his teammates as IU’s caped-crusader. Twice in the game Davis, who had eight points and six rebounds, tangled with Haarms in after-the-whistle altercations.
The most notable of these came in the second half, when a technical foul was assessed to Haarms after a flailing arm was sent in Davis’ general direction. Beyond his role as enforcer, Davis’ 4-6 shooting night marked the best shooting percentage on IU’s team.
“He was ready to play,” Miller said. “I thought tonight he did a really good job actually, offense and defensive rebound for us, gave us a low-post presence we could throw it to.”
A veteran performance from Morgan, a resilient one from Langford and an unflinching one from Davis didn’t show up in the postgame stat sheet. Something that did was the end result — an IU loss.
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