Freshmen spark IU to 86-77 win over Howard

The kids are alright.

Indiana’s freshmen helped the Hoosiers close the weekend better than they began it.

Propelled by a combined 32 points from newcomers Justin Smith and Al Durham, IU outlasted Howard, 86-77, on Sunday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Smith and Durham each finished with 16 points, while sophomore De’Ron Davis posted a team- and career-high 17 points. The underclassmen were the driving forces behind Archie Miller’s first victory as Indiana coach, a milestone deferred by IU’s absent performance in Friday’s season-opening loss to Indiana State.

Since early this summer, Miller has spoken about having a level playing field for each player in the program. When the freshman class arrived in Bloomington in June, those players started at the same place as Indiana’s returners, who have been tasked with adapting to a new staff and a new system.

In essence, everyone — new and old alike — started the Miller era as equals.

That simple fact is central to understanding why newcomers like Smith and Durham could combine for a big night in their second college game, while senior guards Robert Johnson and Josh Newkirk continue to seek traction with their new roles in Miller’s lineup.

“I think the freshmen being on the first leg, being asked to do something they’ve never known is probably a little bit easier than the older guys, who have been asked to do something else, then have to change,” Miller said. “These guys don’t have to change, the young guys. They just have to do what we ask them to do.”

Smith’s big night was set in motion by Juwan Morgan’s sprained ankle suffered early in the night. With Morgan unable to return, Smith occupied a larger role.

The long and athletic freshman helped Indiana attack Howard’s zone during the first half, occupying the high post to break down the Bison defense with back-to-back baskets midway through the period.

With 16 points and 12 rebounds, Smith became the first IU freshman to post a double-double since Thomas Bryant on March 1, 2016.

Together, Smith and Durham complemented each other nicely.

“First thing I noticed about Justin’s game is his high motor,” Durham said. “If he is running, he knows I’m looking for him and my other teammates. He was open, I fed it to him and then he finished the rest off for me.”

Durham, meanwhile, did his damage behind the arc and while driving inside. He hit three 3-pointers and finished 5-for-9 from the field overall.

“Whenever he’s out there, he’s playing with confidence, he’s shooting with confidence,” Smith said. “It’s contagious and we all feed off of that.”

A 7-0 run, punctuated by a 3 by Durham, helped IU create separation late in the first half. It was an important spurt for the Hoosiers, who led 37-27 at the break.

Johnson and Newkirk pushed through a quiet first half, combining for merely seven points on 2-of-7 shooting during that time.

Johnson heated up in the second half, finishing with 14 points. Although the scoring production wasn’t there from Newkirk — he made only one of his seven 3-point attempts — the senior managed seven assists against only two turnovers.

“I thought Rob did a nice job tonight, defensively,” Miller said. “I think he played extremely hard. … Josh has struggled with his shot a little bit and he’s getting some good looks. Those guys have to keep hanging in there. I think they’re going to be very important pieces to the puzzle.”

Altogether, Sunday night was further evidence that this season — at least the early portion of the schedule — will be a work in progress. The Hoosiers labored to put away their lesser Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference foe, once again struggling to defend 3-pointers.

In two games, the Hoosiers have allowed 30 3-pointers, while Indiana State and Howard have combined to shoot 50 percent from beyond the arc.

Howard hung around for the duration of the second half, hitting eight 3-pointers during the period, while IU struggled to consistently run its halfcourt offense.

Free throws were another problem for the Hoosiers, who finished 12-for-29 at the line. IU missed each of its first seven free throw attempts, including five straight misses from Davis to start the game.

But sparked by its freshmen, IU was able to overcome its shortcomings and close the weekend better than it found it.

“Our guys are still a little shellshocked from Friday night in how to react and how to respond to it,” Miller said. “… But to get a win, get it out of the way is great. Going on the road against Seton Hall (on Wednesday) is going to be a huge test for us.”

One comment

  1. Another tough game for Archie. But it is getting better, incrementally. Both Al and Justin looked very good. Clifton has a ways to go, but it is early. I can’t really find the fault on our porous 3 point D except that IU is not body on body close to the shooters. How can smart players be do dumb? You are not going to block a 3 point shot. So go up vertically and contest without fouling. On driving to the rim against a zone D, you must “ jump stop”! That means you Devonte Green! Stay mentally positive.

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