The ensuing two days haven’t been much better.
After OG Anunoby left this week’s game at Penn State with a knee injury, Indiana learned Friday that its versatile sophomore forward will now require surgery and miss the remainder of the season.
It’s a significant blow to a Hoosier team that also doesn’t expect to have Anunoby’s classmate, Juwan Morgan, available for Saturday afternoon’s game against Michigan State.
Injuries continue to undercut Indiana’s ability to fix itself midway through the season, and while Anunoby’s loss, in particular, sent shockwaves through IU’s program, the Hoosiers also recognize the need to be ready ahead of a critical matchup with the Spartans.
“We’ve been in these situations before, but it’s unchartered for this team,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “The Collin Hartman injury was really, really tough but it was in the preseason and a lot of the new guys and the guys that were back, we never got to see what Collin could bring to the team this year. Well, they did get to see what OG is capable of. Sunday, he had seven steals and 18 deflections. They’ve seen it in practice. They see it throughout the games. There’s no way to equate what kind of loss it is, but the bottom line is that everybody has got to continue to take steps forward.”
Anunoby’s loss is particularly inopportune given the matchup problem that Michigan State freshman Miles Bridges creates.
Bridges, a former Indiana recruiting target and high school teammate of IU’s Thomas Bryant and Curtis Jones, is averaging 12.5 points and 6.8 rebounds across his last four games after missing all seven of the Spartans’ games in December with a left ankle injury.
Anunoby would have been the ideal defensive matchup with Bridges. Morgan may have been IU’s next best option. While Crean said it was possible that Morgan could play Saturday after hurting his foot last weekend against Rutgers, the IU coach also characterized Morgan’s status as doubtful.
Now, Indiana turns to its supporting cast. De’Ron Davis, Zach McRoberts and Freddie McSwain are the natural candidates to pick up shares of the 25.1 minutes per game that Anunoby averaged, as is IU’s freshman backcourt duo of Jones and Devonte Green.
“(OG) brings a lot to the team,” McRoberts said. “You hate to see that happen to him. It’s a tough situation for him, but we’ll be there for him. He’ll be there for us.”
McRoberts is capable of providing the hustle minutes, especially some of those intangible plays that Morgan gives this team.
Although McRoberts’ box score impact is often limited — he grabbed two rebounds and dished two assists at Penn State — the walk-on from Carmel has endeared himself to his teammates for his willingness and ability to bring energy off the bench.
“Zach brings a competitive edge,” Davis said. “He competes in every aspect of his game. He just competes. That’s what we’re going to need. The team’s going to pick up for OG’s slack.”
On the other end of the court, Tom Izzo’s young Michigan State team is still learning how to function away from Breslin Center, where the Spartans are 9-1 this season.
Outside of East Lansing, things have not gone as swimmingly. Michigan State has dropped six of its nine road games, including a 72-67 loss at Ohio State on Sunday.
But even for their youth, the Spartans are playing tight defense. They have the third-best opponent field goal percentage (.402) in conference play, and in victories, the Spartans are holding the opposition to 37 percent shooting, as opposed to 46 percent in defeats.
Indiana can’t afford anymore slip-ups at home, where the Hoosiers’ early conference losses to Nebraska and Wisconsin have complicated the road ahead.
After Saturday, IU will play only four of their final 11 games at Assembly Hall, so it’s important for this team to strike in a favorable environment.
Especially when the Hoosiers are forced to play without two of this season’s most important players.
“We’re not going to make up for the size and the wingspan and the speed and the strength and all those types of things (Anunoby and Morgan provide),” Crean said. “But we do have to make up for it with tenacity. Our focus is strong, but (Saturday) isn’t here yet. We really need that crowd to be behind these guys completely. We’re playing one of the better teams in the league and always one of the better teams in the country. This season is no different. They’re hitting their stride.”