Smith And Durham Show Tremendous Improvement In Win Over Western Illinois

Justin Smith scored the Indiana Hoosiers’ first points of the season a minute into their 98-65 opening night win over the Western Illinois Leathernecks by stealing the ball away from forward Ben Pyle and taking it the rest of the way for a dunk.

It was a sign of things to come as Smith stole the ball two more times in the first half and capped each one with a dunk.

“I feel like I’m at my best in transition,” said Smith after the game about his biggest strength, “so being able to create turnovers and really get out and run, use my athleticism to really benefit our team.”

Smith methodically and smoothly poured in 24 points, which tied his career-high. He was both under control and in-control the whole game, a vast improvement from his sometimes wildly inconsistent play through his first two seasons.

The Hoosiers will need players like Smith (8.2ppg last season) to step into much bigger scoring roles than they previously had after losing their top two scorers from last season in Romeo Langford (16.5ppg) and Juwan Morgan (15.5ppg).

Smith wasn’t the only one who looked ready to take a big leap in their junior season. Al Durham, coming off a knee contusion that forced him to miss Indiana’s exhibition game against Gannon, went a perfect 7-of-7 from the floor (including 3-of-3 from deep) as he finished with 21 points and posted a game-high +37 differential in 27 minutes of play.

Durham (8.3ppg) was named one of the two team captains along with Devonte Green (9.4ppg), who missed the season-opener with a hamstring injury. Both are the two highest returning scorers from last season and are expected to have huge roles both scoring and leading the team, the later of which impressed Indiana Head Coach Archie Miller after the game.

“Al (Durham) is an important part to what we do. I think he did a nice job, obviously, with our team in terms of leading them. But I think you can tell, he’s very comfortable right now in how we’re playing and he’s got to stay with it and I think that as we get some other guys around him and continue to get a little bit more experience he’ll have some help.”

Experience and building chemistry will be a huge focus for the Hoosiers moving forward with their non-conference schedule, especially for a team that saw four players play for at least 15 minutes during their IU debuts.

Highly-ranked freshmen Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin both started the game and each were major contributors as Jackson-Davis had 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 blocks while Franklin had 5 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists.

Meanwhile, after missing all of last season, Jerome Hunter finally played his first minutes for the Cream and Crimson as he had 7 points in 16 minutes. Joey Brunk, a transfer from Butler, also got the start in his Indiana debut and provided 11 points and 7 rebounds.

The Hoosiers will have a chance to build off the strong start they had Tuesday night with a relatively soft November schedule before the competition level heats up drastically starting in December with a clash against Florida State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. But for now, it’s all about finding a groove and Indiana has started the season off on the right path.

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.