Indiana’s 87-59 win over Tennessee Tech on Thursday night was more than just trying to move past the Fort Wayne performance. Like most non-conference games this time of year, it’s about trying to figure out team identities before going into conference play, or in the Big Ten’s case the bulk of conference play.
For the Hoosiers, it was about how much they could rely on walk-on Zach McRoberts without clogging up the offense.
For all the good McRoberts has brought the Hoosiers during his two seasons with the team, the reoccurring trend of stalling up the offense has persisted. McRoberts’ unselfish play always finds him making the extra pass even when it wasn’t necessary, as if he was an offensive lineman who’s job is to do the dirty work (such as grab rebounds, deflect passes, and play solid defense) and make it possible for others to score. That has led opposing defenders to play off of McRoberts and give themselves an extra defender to help close in on passing lanes.
The best way to remedy that problem is to force McRoberts’ defender to guard him. Which is what happened on Thursday night.
While his stat line in the box score won’t jump off the page, that’s actually a good thing. No longer is there a player who plays 20+ minutes and shoots maybe one or two shots. Instead, McRoberts shot whenever he felt he was open with the flow of the offense or whenever he sensed his defender was backing off, leading to a season-high seven shot attempts. He finished with eight points, which included him going two of five from deep. This after taking only 14 shots during the nine games and 110 minutes he had played this season before Thursday night.
“They chose not to guard him. So he found himself open and didn’t hesitate,” said Indiana Coach Archie Miller. “I was happy to see him make a couple because that’s a big thing for him (to be able) to create a little offense out there.”
While the announcer from the classic video game NBA Jam wouldn’t quite say McRoberts was “on fire” Thursday night, it was an important game for both the Hoosiers and the Hoosiers’ future opponents.
When asked about his increase in three-point shooting the past couple of games, McRoberts was nice enough to give his future opponents a message about his increase in three-point shooting frequency.
“Just if I’m open, taking open shots. That’s really what I’m looking to do.”
Meaning that all future opponents should probably still guard him or face the consequences.