With the loss of OG Anunoby, the Indiana Hoosiers know they need multiple players to step up to make up for his impact. During the Hoosiers’ 82-75 win over Michigan State on Saturday, those players were the unlikely duo of James Blackmon Jr. and Zach McRoberts.
Already averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game, Blackmon went above and beyond his usual scoring performance as he hit his first six shots (four of which were three-pointers) and finished with 33 points, tying his career-best scoring performance.
“He was ready to shoot,” said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean. “His teammates did a great job getting him open. He (also) did a great job getting himself open with setups. His lift was good.”
Blackmon’s hot start was part of an incredible shooting display from the Hoosiers in the first half, as Indiana made its first six shot attempts from behind the arc.
“It makes it easier for all of us when (Blackmon) is hitting shots like that,” said Robert Johnson, who also provided an offensive spark with 17 points. “Guys have to try to make a plan to stop him, and that just opens up even more for us.”
While not as flashy as Blackmon’s performance, McRoberts played just as vital of a role in making up for the absence of Anunoby.
The walk-on from Carmel was a surprising choice for the fifth starter, but the risk paid off as McRoberts had his fingerprints all over this game as he finished with three points, five rebounds, three assists, two steals, and a block in 32 minutes of play. He also led the team in +/- with a +14 and deflections with an incredible 16.
“We know what Zach (McRoberts) can do. That’s why we’re confident when he’s out there,” said Blackmon about McRoberts’ impact. “He brings that energy and he does the little things that we need.”
McRoberts’ numbers are magnified because of the direct impact they made. Three of his five rebounds were on the offensive end, one of which set up an easy three-pointer for Blackmon that gave Indiana a 9-8 lead that the Hoosiers wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the game. He even made his only three-point attempt when the Spartan defense played too far off him.
“He works extremely hard,” said Crean. “He’s one of those guys that he wants to make (his teammates) better but he’s got to be reminded that he’s pretty good too.”
The performances of McRoberts and Blackmon showed that the Hoosiers have players capable of stepping up in Anunoby’s absence. It won’t always be them in particular but it reassured fans that the Hoosiers as a team are taking the challenge head-on instead of possibly using it as an excuse. The next few games will let us know who else on the team is ready to rise to the challenge.