Despite Bryant’s Best Effort, Indiana’s Offense Unable To Outscore Purdue

The Indiana Hoosiers held the Purdue Boilermakers, the Big Ten’s best three-point shooting team, to just 28.6% from behind the arc. The Hoosiers grabbed the same number of rebounds (35 each) and even kept the turnovers fairly close (14 to 12).

Yet despite all that, the Hoosiers again failed to gain another resume-building win as they lost to Purdue 69-64 in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Thursday night.

The main cause for the loss was an unproductive offense. The usually potent IU offense struggled as Indiana shot 38.6% from the floor and 33.3% from behind the arc. In fact it’s not just this game as Indiana (averaging 81.3 points per game on the season) has averaged just 69.8 points over the last five games. When you take into account that one of those games was a triple overtime game where the Hoosiers scored 110 points against Penn State, those scoring numbers look even worse (for reference, the Hoosiers have averaged 59.8 points in the other four games)

It’s no secret that the “injury bug” has bitten the Hoosiers hard this year, but this game more than any of the last five games showed how short-handed the Hoosiers are at the moment.

  • Despite getting James Blackmon Jr. back from a leg injury, Blackmon very rarely looked like himself as he struggled with his shot all night, finishing 3 of 14  from the floor including 1 of 7 from deep.
  • Juwan Morgan, who’s playing while still injured, started strong but got into foul trouble and didn’t score after halftime.
  • Devonte Green, who had been playing well replacing Blackmon in the starting lineup, was limited to five minutes due to getting a back spasm lifting weights earlier in the week.
  • On top of all that, De’Ron Davis took a shot to the face early in the second half and missed the rest of the game.

Perhaps Purdue Head Coach Matt Painter explained it best as to why injuries really played a huge role in Indiana’s loss.

“You have to understand that Indiana doesn’t have a lot of their guys,” said Painter. “Collin Hartman is a good player, he affects winning and OG (Anunoby) is a really good player, so now when they get into foul trouble (like they did tonight) it’s not normal foul trouble, now it’s two guys are out, one just came back from injury and then you have a couple of guys in foul trouble.”

The one shining light, and the reason Indiana had a chance of actually winning the game was Thomas Bryant.

After being held in check in the first half due to foul trouble, Bryant singlehandedly carried the Hoosiers in the second half, scoring 17 of the Hoosiers’ 28 second half points. He finished with 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting, 3 of 4 from three-point range. Over the last five games, Bryant has averaged 20.2 points on an eye-popping 68.4% (39 of 57) shooting.

So when the controversial “blarge” was called with 44 seconds left (What’s a blarge? Well one referee called a blocking foul while the other called a charging foul, so the refs copped out and called a double foul. It’s okay if that definition  just confuses you more because honestly it confuses me too.),  Indiana’s fate was sealed as Thomas Bryant picked up his fifth foul.

If Bryant can keep up this level of production and can get some help from his teammates that are either not 100% yet (Blackmon, Morgan) or are wildly inconsistent as of late (Josh Newkirk, Rob Johnson), then the Hoosiers can still make the NCAA Tournament. But with six games left in the regular season, time is starting to run out.

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Blackmon And McRoberts Step Up In Win Over Michigan State

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.

Indiana Flirts With Multiple School Records In Blowout Win Over Austin Peay

With Big Ten season about to start, the Indiana Hoosiers used their last tune-up game as a chance to make team history.

The Hoosiers flirted with three different school records during their 97-62 win over the Austin Peay Governors. They ultimately fell short on all three but the Hoosiers look more than ready for when they face Nebraska next Wednesday and transition to the conference play

Here is a look at the three school records that were within striking distance on Thursday:

Most Threes In A Game (Team):

  • IU Record: 19 vs Illinois (2016)
  • Attempt At Record: 15 vs Austin Peay (2016)

The magnitude of this record has gradually desensitized due to how many times this record has either been broken or threatened. This became the ninth time under Head Coach Tom Crean that the Hoosiers have made at least 15 three-pointers in a game. The Hoosiers have already broken the record twice in the past two years, hitting 18 against Minnesota during the 2014-2015 season and then breaking it the next season when the Hoosiers made 19 against Illinois. On Thursday, the Hoosiers made 11 three-pointers in the first half, making the necessary 20 to break the current record a realistic goal. After the final buzzer sounded, seven different Hoosiers made a three-pointer including Devonte Green, who made a half- court heave right before the halftime buzzer.

“Yeah, once you see one or two go down, the rim gets a little bigger,” said James Blackmon Jr. about the team’s three-point shooting.

Most Threes In A Game (Individual):

  • IU Record: 9 (Roderick Wilmont and Matt Roth)
  • Attempt At Record: 6 (Robert Johnson)

Robert Johnson opened the game on fire, hitting three three-pointers in the first four minutes of the game. It was so ridiculous that Johnson attempted a “heat-check” three (or basically a difficult shot you’re only allowed to attempt when you have made a couple in a row) with 15:35 still left in the first half. Johnson only slowed down a little as he finished the first half with five made shots from behind the arc. Yet the inevitable blowout cut Johnson’s time short in the second half as he only made one more deep ball after halftime. His six three-pointers set a new career-high and he fell one point shy of matching career-high for points in a game (he finished with 20).

“I was just getting a lot of open shots,” said Johnson about his performance. “It just happens the way we move the ball. It can be any guy at any time. So when you see an opening you just gotta take it.”

Most Assists In A Game (Individual):

  • IU Record: 15 (Michael Lewis and Keith Smart)
  • Attempt At Record: 11 (Josh Newkirk)

This seemed very realistic when Josh Newkirk dished back-to-back assists to Juwan Morgan with five minutes left in the first half. After the second layup went in, Newkirk had already accumulated eight assists after just 15 minutes. Newkirk was a big reason behind Johnson’s performance, assisting on four of his six three-pointers. In fact, seven of Newkirk’s 11 assists were on three-pointers. However, the most impressive thing about Newkirk’s performance was the fact that he didn’t commit his first turnover until six minutes into the second half, after he had already dished out his 11th and final assist of the night. Newkirk also recorded his first career double-double as he also scored 11 points.

“I was more in attack mode,” said Newkirk about his career-best night. “When I saw the defense colliding I just made the simple pass.”

 

 

Indiana Plays Like A Champion In Front Of 1981 Title Team, Beats #3 North Carolina

Before the game, former Indiana baseball star Kyle Swarber was honored for helping the Chicago Cubs win its first World Series in 108 years. During halftime, the 1981 Hoosiers were honored for winning the NCAA championship 35 years ago. Following each of those two events were two 20-minute periods that culminated in the 2016-2017 Indiana Hoosiers beating the #3 North Carolina Tar Heels 76-67 and looking very much like a team that could be honored on its own one day as a champion.

Coming off an impressive performance in Maui, the Tar Heels were put in an unfamiliar position as they never led once on Wednesday with the Hoosiers taking control of the game from the tip and never letting go thanks to some great defense and rebounding.

“Coach (Rob) Judson did a great job with the game plan”, said Rob Johnson about how the Hoosiers were able to slow down the explosive offense of the Tar Heels. “He gave us a breakdown of everything each guy liked to do. So we just wanted to take those away and make it tough for them.”

“We know their bigs are the best in the country”, said Thomas Bryant about the importance of keeping North Carolina off the glass, “and we knew that we had our work cut out for us at the beginning. So we wanted to establish that mindset and get out there and get after them.”

On the offensive side, OG Anunoby stepped up in a big way as he led the Hoosiers with 16 points and added five rebounds, two assists, and two blocks before leaving the game with an ankle injury in the final minutes.

Anunoby is a bit of an enigma, as came onto the scene late during his freshman year as a three-and-D wing. This season, he’s trying to show that his athleticism can translate into him becoming a superstar. While not close to being one yet, his importance was clear last week when a serious illness kept from being much of a factor during the Hoosiers’ upset loss to Fort Wayne. That’s what makes his performance on Wednesday so encouraging and his ankle injury so potentially discouraging.

Yet even if Anunoby misses time, the Hoosiers showed they were a great TEAM on Wednesday with multiple players playing crucial roles in the victory.

  • Thomas Bryant (14 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals) scored seven of the Hoosiers first 11 second-half points to counter North Carolina’s comeback attempt in the early minutes after halftime.
  • Rob Johnson (11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals) was the first half catalyst as he scored seven points and assisted on another basket to help the Hoosiers jump out to a 17-7 lead during the first six minutes.
  • James Blackmon Jr. (14 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists) came back after missing the last game and grabbed six rebounds during the final 10 minutes of the game, including a couple of huge defensive rebounds that helped prevent the Tar Heels from narrowing the Hoosiers’ lead.
  • Josh Newkirk (10 points, 3 assists) did a great job running the offense at times and De’Ron Davis (5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks) was a key part of the Hoosiers’ 13-4 run that ballooned the Indiana lead to 28-11 midway through the first half and also made a clutch post-up bucket with 3:02 left to push it to a three-basket Indiana lead.

People remember the 1981 Hoosiers as being Isiah Thomas’ team. While he was a big part of their success, they wouldn’t have cut down the nets if it weren’t for the play of Ted Kitchel, Ray Tolbert, Randy Wittman, and Landon Turner.

While it’s way too early to compare this season’s group of important players to those legends, the potential for them to work together and complete the same goal is a very real possibility. Anunoby, Bryant, Johnson, Blackmon, Newkirk, and Davis are all capable of playing a key role in winning a championship.

Just like Schwarber played a key role in the Cubs winning a championship.

The New And Improved James Blackmon Jr. And Three Other Observations From Indiana’s Blowout Win Over UMass-Lowell

After coming off an emotional high of beating the Kansas Jayhawks in Hawaii to start the 2016-2017 season, the Indiana Hoosiers took care of business in their home-opener by defeating the UMass-Lowell River Hawks 100-78.

It was evident early in the game that the aftereffects of the overtime thriller as well as the jetlag of traveling five time zones had caused the Hoosiers to start relatively sluggish, clinging to a 16-16 tie by the under-12 media timeout. Yet the hero from the Armed Forces Classic came alive yet again as James Blackmon Jr. had 15 of his game-high 23 points during the final 11:30 of the first half to help the Hoosiers seize control of the game as they took a 53-36 lead into halftime and never looked back.

“I think there’s a confidence when they look at him”, said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean about the impact Blackmon makes on the offense.

Coach Crean also talked about the fact that Blackmon made himself become physically stronger while returning from his injury and how it has improved his game.

“James is a lot more explosive than what he was. He could always dunk and things like that but he’s playing with more force. He’s playing downhill more. He’s covering more ground.”

His new strength combined with an iron-willed determination to make up for all the time he lost last season, points to this likely being the norm we’ll see from Blackmon Jr. this season. It wouldn’t surprise me if he eventually steps into Kevin “Yogi” Ferrell’s shoes and becomes the Hoosiers undisputed leader.

However that wasn’t the only thing I noticed during my first trip to Assembly Hall this season. Here are three others:

  1. Last Saturday it was Curtis Jones’ 15 points (including some big shots in overtime) that stood out from Indiana’s freshman class. Wednesday was Devonte Green’s time to shine as he finished with six points (two of which resulted in an explosive one-handed dunk) and four steals, which makes him the first Hoosier to have that many steals in a game since Blackmon Jr. did it against Alcorn State during the beginning of last season. It’s starting to look like this freshman class could play an integral part in the Hoosiers’ success.
  2. De’Ron Davis had some clutch free throws late against Kansas, but against UMass-Lowell he scored eight points and it was how he scored those four baskets that’s important. Each came on a variety of post moves where he took his defender one-on-one and beat him to the bucket. If Davis is able to do this on a nightly basis, it would make an already potent offense even more dangerous for opponents.
  3. While it would be great to see more Davis post-ups, I’d similarly like to see Thomas Bryant take more three-point shots when they are given to him. Bryant showed off his range in small quantities last year before hitting two big ones in the early minutes of the Kansas game. He has a great stroke, but on numerous occasions he was given up a wide-open look because he either hesitated until a defender closed in on him or he passed it to another open teammate. I understand why he’s not taking these shots (play decoy and cause the defense to scramble), but sooner or later teams will dare him to shoot and I know he has the ability to make those teams pay if he actually takes those shots.

 

Five Takeaways From Indiana’s Big Win Against Kansas

The #11 Indiana Hoosiers started the 2016-2017 season off with a bang as they outlasted the #3 Kansas Jayhawks 103-99 in the Armed Forces Classic.

For many, including myself, it was the first time they got to see this new version of the Hoosiers. So with that in mind, let me give five observations, based off of last night’s game, about what the season has in store for this season’s Hoosiers:

  1. Blackmon Is Not Only Back, But Will Fill The Yogi Role Of “Mr. Big Shot”: It’s so great to have James Blackmon Jr. back, as his shooting and scoring turn this offense into something special (see observation number five). Yet, the most important fact to come out of last night’s win was that Blackmon looks ready to carry the team in crunch time and take over Yogi Ferrell’s role of “Mr. Big Shot”. Blackmon has always had a knack for hitting big shots but his confidence and demeanor last night were something we have never seen from him before. He was an assassin who continuously made big three-pointers, driving layups, and critical free throws. If he stays healthy, we might be in for a special season from Blackmon.
  2. Bryant Is The New Captain: Ever since he came to campus last year, Thomas Bryant has been one of the most passionate Hoosiers, but with Yogi Ferrell gone, I think we can finally call Bryant the “heart and soul” of Indiana Basketball. While Blackmon did take over down the stretch, there was plenty of evidence to suggest this is Bryant’s team. Bryant played whatever role was needed, whether it was scorer in the first half or glass-eater in the second half. Perhaps most telling was that Head Coach Tom Crean continuously played Bryant in the first half even after he recorded his second foul, something Crean only usually did for Ferrell.
  3. Jones Could Be The Spark Plug Off The Bench: On a night where the world expected to see #2 ranked freshman Josh Jackson of Kansas begin what should be his only season as a Jayhawk before he gets picked in next year’s NBA lottery, it was Indiana’s freshman Curtis Jones that stole the show with 15 points off the bench, including seven crucial points in overtime. Jones provided instant offense not only in overtime but also in the first half when he scored his other eight points. Jones also showed he wasn’t afraid of the big moment as he scored the final four points of the game for the Hoosiers.
  4. Morgan Has A Legit Shot At Having IU’s First Triple-Double In Over 40 Years: The last and only Hoosier to record a triple-double was Steve Downing. In his sophomore season, Downing put up 28 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 blocks against Michigan. While I am in no way saying that Juwan Morgan will have a game like that in his sophomore season, it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to end up with a statline of 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. Morgan’s skillset of being such a strong rebounder and ability to handle the ball as a point forward has already given him an opening night statline of 6 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. You’re telling me he couldn’t get a triple-double against one of the cupcake non-conference opponents IU has on its schedule?
  5. This Team Might Be An Even Better Shooting Team Than Last Year’s Team: It may be hard to believe but based on what the Hoosiers just did against what should be one of the top defenses in the nation, IU’s offense might be even better this year than it was last year. Part of it will be a healthy Blackmon back and ready to prove himself. Bryant should improve as a scorer both in the post and on the perimeter. OG Anunoby will continue to improve offensively. Add all that to a roster that is full of shooters and we might be set for a record-breaking IU offense this season.

Three Reasons The Hoosiers Are On The Brink Of Winning The Big Ten

The Indiana Hoosiers took care of business on Thursday as they easily defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini 74-47 thanks to a dominant second half performance. With the win, the Hoosiers now sit at 13-3 in Big Ten play and are closing in on their second conference championship in four years.

Yet how did a team left for dead at the beginning of December turn things around so drastically?

Here are three reasons the Hoosiers are one win away from clinching at least a share of the Big Ten title and two wins away from winning the conference outright:

  1. Depth: Very few college basketball teams have nine players  who can contribute on a nightly basis and the Hoosiers take full advantage. Combining their breakneck pace with their ability to rotate players in and out keeps their players relatively fresh enough to make a game-ending run when the opponent becomes gassed. It has also helped the team weather what could have been a season-ending injury when James Blackmon Jr. went down right before Big Ten play began. Instead, freshmen OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan have grown up quickly and have provided superior defense along with adequate offense.
  2. Schedule: Let’s not ignore the elephant in the room: the Hoosiers had a very easy early Big Ten schedule. This was even more important for the Hoosiers as it coincided with their period of trying to adapt their rotation after the loss of Blackmon. Looking back at a couple of those games it’s almost shameful to think that the Hoosier only beat awful Rutgers by 7 points. But those early games against lesser competition let the Hoosiers make a successful transition while not hurting their record. At the end of the day, you can’t control who you face in your conference and the Hoosiers took advantage of things breaking right for them.
  3. Yogi Ferrell: The senior point guard has been great throughout his entire career at Indiana but this year he has taken it to another level. In Big Ten games this season, Ferrell is averaging 17.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.2 assists per game. On top of that, his defense has reached a level he’s never played at before and it has resulted in 1.31 steals per game in conference play for a player who has never averaged over one steal at any point in his college career. But what’s been the most impressive is his leadership. I only mentioned Big Ten games because those are the games he’s played with Blackmon out of the lineup, showing that Ferrell has stepped up in his absence. Ferrell reinforced the notion that he can carry the Hoosiers when the team needs it by posting 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists against Illinois in a game Indiana was without Rob Johnson and saw Troy Williams play limited minutes due to an injury. In the second half alone, after trailing the Illini 28-27 at half, Ferrell had as many points in the second half (19) as the whole Illinois team. He may not win Big Ten Player of the Year, but Ferrell has arguably been the most valuable player in the conference and is starting to climb the list of greatest Hoosiers of all time.