Indiana’s Rollercoaster Season Comes To An End Against Wichita State In NIT Quarterfinals

You could call the Indiana Hoosiers’ 2018-2019 season many things.

Hopeful. Depressing.

Lucky. Cursed.

Fun. Funny.

Amusing. Exhausting.

Interesting. Agonizing.

Random. Repetitive.

All of these words not only described the Hoosiers’ overall season, it also described any one game during the season, including Indiana’s 73-63 loss to the Wichita State Shockers in the NIT Quarterfinals.

This rollercoaster of emotions finally came to a complete stop on Tuesday night, and now Hoosier Nation has exited the ride to differing results. Some had fun. Others ran for the nearest garbage bin and threw up. Regardless of the reaction, this season, for better or worse, will not be forgotten by those who took this ride.

Yet how did this wild ride come into existence? Why did games fluctuate so wildly? What does this season mean for the future? Now that the season is finally over, it is time to try answering these three questions:

1) How did this season become so unstable and unpredictable?

The truth is we never got to see the team that was advertised to us coming into the season. From the beginning, injuries have plagued the Hoosiers, taking countless games from potential rotation players, including the entire season from Jerome Hunter.

In fact, only Juwan Morgan and Justin Smith ended up playing all 35 of the Hoosiers’ games this season, and Morgan could have easily missed time but played through it.

Devonte Green missed four games in November and then was not allowed to play for three more in January. De’Ron Davis missed five games. Rob Phinisee missed three games. Al Durham missed one game but played half of the season with an injured hand. Zach McRoberts had an injured back most of the season. Race Thompson missed over half the season as well. Even Romeo Langford missed the final three games because injuries that he played through finally caught up to him.

Because of all these injuries, and the way they were spaced out, the team was constantly in flux as players entered and left the rotation constantly, hampering the creation of any kind of chemistry among the team.

2) Why did the team’s performance change so suddenly and often?

Injuries explain why the season was so uneven, but don’t explain why the team’s performance could change in the middle of a game. This is because this Hoosier team had a fatal flaw, one it wasn’t used to when compared to past seasons.

It couldn’t shoot well consistently.

“Shooting from the three-point line is the number one reason in many ways that our team could not get over the hump so many times (this season),” explained Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller about the biggest issue with the team’s consistency.

It’s easy to see this wasn’t a good three-point shooting team. On the year, the Hoosiers attempted 676 treys and only connected on 211 of them (31.2%), which was made even more painful by the team’s propensity for falling behind early, either because of committing turnovers or shooting (and missing) a lot of threes early in the game.

Needing to make threes became necessary to get back into games, and with only one player who hit above 35% from long range (Green hit 41% from deep on the season), it became easier for defenses to key in on that player and forced lesser three-point shooters to force up shots.

However, three-point shooting wasn’t the only type of shot that let the team down over the course of the season. Foul shooting was abysmal across the board, with not a single player hitting above 75% from the free throw line. Durham and Green ended up being the team’s most reliable free throw shooters and they only hit on 74% and 73.6% of their foul shots respectively. Such poor foul shooting made holding a small lead very hard.

3) How will the events of this season shape future IU seasons?

This is the question everyone wants answered the most, and unfortunately can’t be answered yet. Just like how every member of Hoosier Nation has reacted differently to this rollercoaster ride, so too will the players who experienced it firsthand. Will they leave to find new beginnings? Will they use the frustration they felt to fuel their motivation to get better and make the team better? Will it have no effect at all and we’ll have a repeat performance next season?

We’ll have to wait for the ride to open again next fall.

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Hoosiers Overcome First Half Slump To Advance Past Saint Francis (PA) In NIT First Round

The first thing a number one seed in the NIT must get over is the fact it barely missed the NCAA Tournament. For some teams, they get over it immediately and get to work on trying to win the NIT. Some teams simply can’t get over it and get eliminated by a hungrier, low-seeded team on day one.

In between those two extremes reside the Indiana Hoosiers, who played relatively flat in the first half but played extremely motivated in the second half to beat the Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash 89-72 in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday night.

The Hoosiers led by as many as nine points during the first half, but the Red Flash outscored IU 27-12 during the final ten minutes of the first half to take a 40-34 lead into halftime. The cause for the huge run was a combination of lackadaisical defense and terrible shot selection which saw the Hoosiers attempt 13 first half threes, not something you want to see from a team hitting only 31.4% of its attempts from behind the arc.

The first half seemed to have ended in a total trainwreck as a missed call against Rob Phinisee combined with the same call being called on De’Ron Davis led to the referees giving Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller a technical foul that turned a two-point halftime deficit into a six-point halftime deficit.

Instead of being the nail in the coffin for Indiana’s season, it became the jolt of energy the team needed as it mimicked its coach’s fiery intensity by going on a 16-2 to start the second half as Saint Francis never got closer than five points the rest of the game.

Juwan Morgan scored 28 points, including a perfect 7-of-7 in the second half, and Al Durham poured in a career-high 22 points for a Hoosier team that needed scorers to show up as Romeo Langford sat out due to a back injury he sustained in the Big Ten Tournament against Ohio State.

In Langford’s place, Devonte Green started his seventh game of the season and while he did have an off night shooting the ball (4-of-13), he was still a huge contributor hitting three three-pointers and adding a game-high six assists.

“We did a better job in the second half, and Juwan (Morgan) clearly established himself, and that’s what we needed to do pretty much the entire game,” said Miller about the major difference between the first and second half. He also praised his starting guards for all having great games, noting the scoring of Durham and the passing of Rob Phinisee and Green.

Saint Francis was invited to the NIT after winning the Northeast Conference (NEC) regular season championship and the Red Flash played like a champion-level team in the first half, especially Senior Guard Jamaal King, who scored 16 of his 19 points before halftime. Isaiah Blackmon led the team with 21 points, including five three-pointers, Keith Braxton added nine points and nine rebounds.

With Indiana’s focus now set on the goal of winning the NIT, the Hoosiers next challenger will be a familiar one as they will face-off with the same Arkansas team that narrowly beat them 73-72 in Fayettevile early on in the season. The Razorbacks advanced to the second round of the NIT by defeating Providence 84-72 on the road and will need to do the same to advance again as they travel to Bloomington for this rematch. Whether or nor the Hoosiers have Langford for this game is yet to be seen, but the Hoosiers are more than capable of handling Arkansas if they play like they did in the second half on Thursday night.

How A Gutsy And Short-Handed Indiana Hoosier Team Survived UT-Arlington’s Epic Comeback

Merely looking at boxscores can be very misleading. What ended up being a 78-64 win for the Indiana Hoosiers over the UT-Arlington Mavericks looks like a somewhat comfortable win on the surface, but anyone who watched the contest can attest to the fact that there was nothing comfortable about this game.

That can be interpreted in a literal sense too as before the game started, news came out that De’Ron Davis would be unable to play, bringing the total of injured scholarship players to five and leaving IU Coach Archie Miller with just a seven-man rotation.

Which quickly became a six-man rotation when Al Durham fell awkwardly on his back after scoring the first basket of the game. He would stay in for a little while longer but when he was subbed out with 7:58 left in the first half, he never returned to the game.

Still the six-man rotation of Romeo Langford, Rob Phinisee, Juwan Morgan, Justin Smith, Evan Fitzner, and Damezi Anderson pressed on and pushed a 24-14 lead from when Durham went out to a 39-22 halftime score.

Yet the Mavericks didn’t panic. Despite shooting a horrendous 1-of-12 from behind the arc in the first half, they kept to their gameplan and were rewarded as the shots from deep finally started to fall. Combine that with a suffocating defense against a fatigued Hoosier squad (remember IU was just over 48 hours removed from a grueling loss at Arkansas) and in the span of 12 minutes, Indiana’s lead went from 48-28 to just 61-60 with 6:33 left.

During those dozen minutes, the Mavericks played with swagger. Confidently launching threes when the stats said otherwise. Forcing the Hoosiers to commit turnover after turnover. They believed they were going to come back and win.

Then Hoosier Nation stepped into action.

Despite the student section being absent due to Thanksgiving Break, the seats at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall were still occupied with thousands of IU fans who cheered on the Hoosiers throughout the game. Yet with Indiana’s lead dwindling, the crowd became louder and louder as they tried to encourage their Cream and Crimson warriors.

“Without question, the energy our crowd gives our players, they feed off of (it),” said Coach Miller. “(The crowd) knew in that last seven, eight minutes we needed them. I thought they stepped up.”

As soon as UT-Arlington cut the deficit to just a single point, Indiana immediately countered on the next possession when Smith converted a layup off of a lobbed pass from Fitzner to end a 6-0 Maverick run.

That basket sparked a loud reaction from the crowd and suddenly that confidence in the Mavericks started to waver, so much so that UT-Arlington Head Coach Chris Ogden smartly called a timeout to ice the crowd and draw out a play for his team.

However, it didn’t work. Hoosier Nation retaliated by being even louder after the timeout and it was at that point that all that confidence waned.

Sensing the chink in the armor, Morgan asserted himself, scoring once and assisting on the other two IU baskets as the Hoosiers pushed the lead back to seven.

“When things aren’t going real well, you need your aces to kind of stick their head out and say let’s go, and I thought he did,” said Miller.

Even an incidental headbutt that caused Langford to leave the game with a bloody nose couldn’t stop the Hoosiers from gutting it out as Anderson hit a huge three just a minute later that basically iced the game as the lead returned to double-digits.

Morgan demonstrated his senior leadership not just at the end but throughout the game, finishing with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Langford added 16 points and eight rebounds, while Phinisee had eight points, four assists, and three steals.

The final result was a well-earned victory in the face of adversity. Yet that adversity won’t be going away with the addition of three more scholarship players on the injury report and no guarantee any of them will even be available to play Friday vs UC Davis. Yet Morgan and his team remain undaunted.

“If it gets to the point where we have to play five people 40 minutes a game then that’s what we’ll do,” said Morgan. “Our bodies are in condition well enough to do it, but if it comes to it then that’s what we’re going to do, and we’ll fight as hard as we can.”

Underclassmen Guards Shine During Indiana’s Impressive Rout Of Marquette

With upperclassmen guards Devonte Green and Zach McRoberts out, it was up to two freshmen and a sophomore to hold down the fort against one of the most dangerous scoring guards in college basketball.

Despite the troubling outlook, the trio of Romeo Langford, Rob Phinisee, and Al Durham put on exceptional performances as they led the Indiana Hoosiers to a 96-73 win over the 24th ranked Marquette Golden Eagles on Wednesday night.

Langford led all scorers with 22 points while Phinisee and Durham orchestrated an extremely efficient offense by producing a combined 13 assists (eight for Phinisee and five for Durham) compared to just one turnover.

“You’re starting two freshmen and a sophomore, to say the least, I couldn’t be prouder of them,” exclaimed Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller about his young backcourt.

Phinisee and Durham not only helped set up teammates for baskets but also scored a few of their own as they recorded 12 and 13 points respectively.

Yet probably their biggest contribution was holding Golden Eagle standout Markus Howard to just 18 points on 6-of-14 shooting, including just 1-of-5 from three. Heading into the game, Howard had been averaging 26 points per game and had just won Big East Player of the Week.

“Going in, we knew how good Markus Howard was and we knew how capable he was of scoring, so we prepped for that all week,” said Durham. “So that just translated to the game. I feel our coaches really set us up to execute the game plan.”

The trio were also helped out by a standout performance from Evan Fitzner, who scored 16 points in just 18 minutes of action, including a perfect 4-of-4 from behind the arc.

“He’s a terrific offensive player,” said Miller. “Without question he fits our style. I knew it from day one. He’s a confident guy.”

Overall the Hoosiers looked both comfortable and confident throughout their first game against a formidable opponent. IU will need to bring both attributes with them when they travel to Arkansas on Sunday for what will be the Hoosiers’ first road game of the season.

Hoosier Hysteria Pulls Off Big Production And Also Shows A Promising IU Team

For 90 minutes on a late September afternoon, Indiana Hoosier fans were treated to an amazing spectale that was part awe-inspiring, part thought-provoking, and part hype-inducing. And that was only referring to the on-court player introductions.

Stunning opening presentation aside, where Branch McCraken Court momentarily became one of the world’s largest TV screens, there were many big takeaways from this year’s Hoosier Hysteria. One huge takeaway being the renovated Roberts Family Indiana Basketball Team Center, which includes the luxurious Oladipo Zeller Legacy Lounge which is named in honor of Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, both of whom donated money to help with the renovation.

There was also the presentation and hanging of the IU Women’s NIT Championship banner, with the two stars from that team,Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill, returning one more time to commemorate the occasion.

As for the men’s basketball that was presented to fans on Saturday, those results were much quieter in comparison but altogether just as important.

Hoosier fans were able to finally see Romeo Langford in the candy stripe pants as the freshman phenom took the dunk contest title and also showcased his ease-of-movement with the ball on offense. Yet the most promising takeaway from Langford’s showing was his pleasantly surprising intensity on defense, something people were a little worried about with Langford when transitioning to college basketball.

There was also Juwan Morgan, who returns as the beating heart of this Hoosier team, continuing where he left off last season. He also showed off an improved free throw shot and three-point shot, though take that latter one with a grain of salt. Even though Morgan joined forces with Brenna Wise to win the three-point shooting competition, there is plenty of precedent to show that means nothing when it comes to the season that follows (remember the year Zeller won the contest and then didn’t make a single three all season).

Langford wasn’t the only new Hoosier to impress during the event. Freshman forwards Jake Forrester and Damezi Anderson both showed promise scoring around the basket and hopefully can help improve IU’s length in the frontcourt during the course of the season. Then there was fifth-year senior Evan Fitzner from St. Mary’s who at 6-10 provides IU a unique weapon in the form of a tall player who can pull the defense out of the paint with his dangerous three-point shooting.

However the biggest player takeaway has to be the improvement and confidence of Aljami Durham. He looked sharp with his passes and decision-making and overall just looked much more comfortable in Archie Miller’s system than he did last season. In fact, his team won the scrimmage in large part because he took over down the stretch. If we are to see a player make a similar jump like Morgan did last season, my bets are on Durham. If he’s able to do just that, this team may become even more dangerous.

Freshmen Smith And Durham Step Up In 78-68 Win Over Illinois

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.