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Saturday, May 18
The Indiana Daily Student

sports men's basketball

IU men’s basketball hasn’t made the finishes easy. Neither in the wins, nor the losses.

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For seven games, IU didn’t have to be at its best. For seven games, IU head coach Archie Miller didn't need to worry — at least not much — about a young team still developing to meet his standards. For seven games, those growing pains didn’t hurt. For seven games, Miller’s team played a nonconference schedule among the easiest in the nation. The Hoosiers won their games handily. 

But when Miller walked through the tunnels of Madison Square Garden and took his seat in the media room, that had all changed. He had seen a team that learned how to finish in a rock-fight style win over the University of Connecticut. It wasn’t at its best, but it found a way to win. 

"After tonight, every game we play from this point forward is going to feel like this," Miller said after the win over UConn. "So you got to get used to it."

He’s been right.

Beginning with IU’s win over the University of Connecticut, nothing has been easy. IU beat UConn by three, making key plays in the final seconds to escape. Against Nebraska, IU was dominant on the offense end, but it needed overtime to pull out at six-point win. It needed a game winning three from freshman Armaan Franklin in the final minute to beat the University of Notre Dame. 

In each game, IU blew leads in the second half. But it always pulled through, someone always stepped up in the biggest moments. Rarely was it the same player, but the play was always made. 

When the University of Arkansas came to Simon Skodjt Assembly Hall on Sunday night, the story was the same. Until the end. 

IU pulled out to an 11-point lead in the second half. It fed freshman forward Trayce Jackson-Davis inside as he dominated an Arkansas defense that lacked the size to guard him. 

At least before IU let that lead slip, too. 

“We were in a similar situation a week ago and found a way to win the game in a similar manner where your offense let you down,” Miller said. “So, it wasn't like something alarming happened today that didn't happen a week ago against UConn in the Garden.”

Arkansas closed the game on a 19-3 run over the final 8:08. Even as IU led for 28:26, it never had an easy ride to the finish. It wasn’t easy in the wins, nor in the loss to Arkansas. 

While Franklin stepped up against Notre Dame, junior center Joey Brunk against UConn and sophomore guard Rob Phinisee against Nebraska, showcasing the depth of Miller’s team to have a different savior each night, that never happened against Arkansas. 

“We were in a similar hole a week ago, came through, tonight we didn't,” Miller said. “We had enough in the tank to get it done.”

Since IU moved past its first seven games, nothing has been simple. Even in its best game, beating then-No. 17 ranked Florida State University by 16 on Dec. 3, and even in its worst, a 20 point loss to Wisconsin on Dec. 7, it was never simple. 

That theme — the hard-fought wins and to-the-wire losses like against Arkansas — won’t be changing. 

When the calendar turns to 2020, Miller returns to a month where his first two Hoosier teams have struggled. Miller is 5-13 with IU in January. 

A year ago IU found itself in a spot similar to where it is now. It was 12-2 last season before going on a 1-12 skid. The Hoosiers have started well again, getting out to an 11-2 record, all before Big Ten play settles in for good. 

It’s a Big Ten slate the rest of the way, a conference that has been so competitively balanced through the first games of league play. IU’s schedule will be the most difficult in the nation the rest of the way, based on ESPN’s basketball power index. 

It won’t be easy the rest of the way. 

“We just didn't do enough,” Miller said. “You get mad and whatnot. But you're going to watch the film against Notre Dame. It's going to be a similar theme with this team.”

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