The turning point of IU’s 89-72 victory over Saint Francis University in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament on Tuesday night in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall came at halftime, and it came inside the IU locker room.
IU entered halftime down six points and following a contentious refereeing decision. IU Head Coach Archie Miller received a technical foul on the sideline, and boos cascaded down from the 5,431 people inside Assembly Hall, toward both IU and the officials as they left the court.
But inside IU’s locker room, it wasn’t Miller who tried to galvanize the team, but rather assistant coach Ed Schilling.
In the words of junior forward De’Ron Davis, Schilling “really got going” in front of the players, which was abnormal compared to Schilling's usual demeanor.
“I think everybody seeing him get going was kind of a shocker,” Davis said.
Sophomore Justin Smith and senior Juwan Morgan echoed Davis’ words about the uncharacteristic actions of the mild-mannered Schilling.
“I’ve only seen it once all year and it was at the beginning of the year,” Morgan said. “I think that really opened some guys’ eyes to how serious it is, regardless of NIT, NCAA, whatever it may be. I think guys really realized that this game is just as important as any other game.”
The Hoosiers responded in the second period with inspired play, beginning the half with a 16-2 run to wrangle control of the game away from the Red Flash.
Central to this was Morgan, who scored a game-high 28 points and scored six of IU’s first 12 points in the second half. Morgan pointed to a halftime observation by fellow senior Zach McRoberts as a reason for the increased success he found in the paint after the halftime break.
“It was really Zach. He came out and told everybody what he was seeing,” Morgan said. “He was seeing that we could get the ball in the paint pretty much anytime we wanted, then making plays out of the paint, if that was scoring, passing, whatever you wanted that to be.”
Morgan was only in the game for 12 first-half minutes and scored seven points before being relegated to the bench by Miller with two fouls. But Morgan’s 21 points and perfect 7-7 showing shooting field goals in the second half were driven by halftime adjustments.
“We were doing alright when he was on the floor in the first half,” Miller said. “In the second half there was a clear message to establish.”
Other things also fell into place for the Hoosiers as the Red Flash saw their surprise lead subside.
The defense clamped down on Saint Francis senior guard Jamaal King, limiting him to three second-half points after he scored 16 in the opening 20 minutes. While IU remained just as inconsistent shooting 3-pointers, finishing the game 6-21 from behind the arc, the layups and shots from in close went in for players like Morgan and sophomore guard Al Durham, who had a career-best 22 points.
After winning Tuesday, IU will face the University of Arkansas at home in the second round of the NIT.
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