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Three things to know before IU men’s basketball plays its second-round NIT game



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Senior guard Johnny Jager shoots a free throw against Saint Francis University on March 19 at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall. IU defeated Saint Francis, 89-72. Anna Tiplick Buy Photos

Following Tuesday’s first-round NIT home win against Saint Francis University, IU will return to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall this weekend for its second game of the 2019 National Invitation Tournament.

IU’s first NIT victory since 1985 was marked by a resurgent second-half showing against the regular season Northeast Conference champions, but IU’s second-round matchup will pose more of a 40-minute challenge.

In a rematch of a game played earlier this season in November, IU will play the University of Arkansas at 12 p.m. Saturday inside Assembly Hall.

A No. 5 seed in IU’s section of the bracket, Arkansas won on the road in the first round, defeating Providence College, 84-72.

Ahead of Saturday’s rematch between the Hoosiers and Razorbacks, here are three things to know.

1. IU has already lost to Arkansas this season.

There were many close losses during the 2018-2019 season which kept IU out of the NCAA Tournament, and one of those happened in IU’s fourth game of the regular season in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Fresh off a rousing 23-point home win over Marquette University, IU suffered its first loss of the season via a 73-72 defeat at Arkansas. The game was a close contest throughout, but the deciding moments came with less than 10 seconds remaining.

IU freshman guard Rob Phinisee missed a layup with the game tied at 72, only for junior forward De’Ron Davis to gather the rebound, try and lay the ball into the basket instead of dunk it and then miss the point-blank layup. Sophomore guard Mason Jones collected the ensuing rebound for Arkansas, was carelessly fouled by Davis and then made the game-winning free throw.

There will be a major difference from November’s meeting between the teams, though, as Daniel Gafford will not play Saturday for the Razorbacks. A sophomore forward, Gafford elected to skip the NIT and declare for the NBA Draft, focusing his preparations on his upcoming pro career instead of Arkansas’ postseason adventures.

Gafford dominated IU earlier this season, making 12 of his 15 shots to score 27 points while collecting 12 rebounds.

2. Freshman guard Romeo Langford’s status for Saturday’s game is uncertain.

Langford did not play in IU’s win over Saint Francis due to a back injury suffered in the Big Ten Tournament loss to Ohio State. It’s not known whether he will play against Arkansas.

IU Head Coach Archie Miller said Langford hasn’t done any on-court activity since the Hoosiers were eliminated from the Big Ten tournament by Ohio State.

“If we played in the NCAA Tournament tonight, he wouldn’t have played,” Miller said after Tuesday's game.

IU’s failure to reach the NCAA Tournament hasn’t put a significant damper on Langford’s NBA Draft stock, as he’s still projected as a potential lottery pick in the first round of this summer’s draft.

There’s been no official release from IU Athletics about Langford’s status for the rest of the NIT, unlike Gafford at Arkansas, and Miller has insisted Langford will return to game action when healthy.

3. After a sluggish start Tuesday, Miller is looking for the Hoosiers to be more focused.

IU trailed Saint Francis at halftime by six points, a product of poor shooting on offense and a lack of defensive discipline.

While he didn’t prevent the lackluster opening half from occurring, Miller said he knew the poor performance was coming to start the game.

“You can always sense the vibe that's going around,” Miller said. “I didn't feel that we had four or five guys, you know, completely locked in and it showed."

But the needed halftime corrections were made. The Hoosiers pulled away from the Red Flash for a 17-point win, moving one step closer to a trip to Madison Square Garden, where the semifinals and finals of the NIT will be played.

“I mean, to be honest with you, we’re taking it very, very serious right now,” Miller said of the NIT. “This is a tournament that has teams that could advance in the NCAA Tournament.”

Seating will be general admission for Saturday’s game and parking around Assembly Hall will be free.

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