Justin Smith and Aljami Durham have had very up-and-down freshmen seasons, sometimes providing a huge spark and other times being non-factors.
On Wednesday night, both players were at their best as they helped the Indiana Hoosiers beat the Illinois Fighting Illini 78-68 as the duo helped counter two separate runs by the Illini when the Hoosiers needed someone to step up.
The first time happened in the first half when Illinois jumped out to a 9-6 lead over the first four minutes of the game. Smith would score the Hoosiers’ next eight points as Indiana tied the game up at 14-14. After that, Durham made back-to-back baskets, one of them from three, to push the Hoosiers’ lead to 19-14 and force an Illinois timeout.
The second time came in the second half when the Illini cut a 10-point halftime deficit down to 47-45 with 14 minutes left. Smith and Durham scored 10 of the Hoosiers’ next 12 points as IU pushed the lead to 59-51 and never let Illinois get within four points for the rest of the game.
“Freshmen, they go through ups and downs. That’s what a freshman season is,” said IU coach Archie Miller. “But moments like tonight, (a) hard-fought win where guys make winning plays, they stick with you — that’s how you learn how to win.”
The freshmen duo weren’t the only ones who helped Indiana get above .500 in Big Ten play for the first time in a month. Josh Newkirk had 11 crucial points, including a huge three-pointer during Illinois’ run to start the second half to help the Hoosiers stay ahead before Smith and Durham went to work.
“It’s nice to have him play the amount of minutes he did (21 minutes) and also put up some points on the board and also make some crucial shots for us,” said Miller.
Also, despite not scoring as much as he usually does, Juwan Morgan played a huge role as he played amazing defense and in the process really stuffed the stat sheet as he finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, and 5 blocks.
To Miller it was just another day of Morgan carrying the team.
“If he’s not a first-team, all-conference member maybe it’s because of our record. But I have a hard time imagining there’s an impactful player on a team that’s done as much as him for us.”
The Hoosiers now must go on the road for their next two games, starting with a trip to Iowa on Saturday. But they’ll enter that stretch now having won three games in a row by 10+ points.