Hoosiers on the rebound

Juwan Morgan’s game-winning putback was a fitting finale for Indiana on Saturday.

That’s because it came off an offensive rebound, the last of 31 Hoosier boards in their 63-62 win over then-No. 6 Michigan State. After struggling on the glass for much of the conference season, the Hoosiers are beginning to see the kind of rebounding success coach Archie Miller envisioned for his group at the start of his second campaign.

Finally, as Indiana enters the last week of the regular season, there’s better depth in the frontcourt. There’s better attention to detail when it comes to blocking out and, increasingly, there’s a better team-wide understanding of what it takes to battle at the rim in the Big Ten.

“It’s really a concerted effort,” Miller said. “It’s a really important thing for our team.”

The win over the Spartans marked the third time in the last four games that Indiana has out-rebounded its opponent. This, after the Hoosiers out-rebounded only four conference foes during their first 14 league games.

Suddenly, an area that Miller hoped would be a strength at the start of the season is turning into a source of pride for Indiana as it attempts to rejuvenate its NCAA Tournament hopes down the stretch.

“If you don’t have a potent offensive attack, you can’t give them second chances,” Miller said. “We’re defending so late in the clock most games that if you (have to) defend them again, that’s almost 60 seconds at a time, or 75 seconds at a time. We’ve really committed to blocking out. We’re doing a better job of blocking out. We have more guys with concentrated efforts in film sessions seeing themselves block out better and do things (correctly).”

Morgan has been especially helpful to the cause. The senior forward led the Hoosiers with 11 rebounds against Michigan State, and averaged 13.0 boards for the week.

“Juwan isn’t having a great (shooting) percentage right now from the floor in some of these games, but he’s rebounding like crazy right now,” Miller said. “Both ends of the floor, he’s all over the glass. He’s finding a way to battle.”

For a time in Saturday’s game, it didn’t seem like there would be much of a battle on the glass.

Michigan State out-rebounded IU 7-2 in the first four minutes. The Spartans had 18 of the game’s first 26 rebounds by the final media timeout of the first period, and led IU on the boards, 19-11, at halftime.

“Early in the game, we weren’t very good,” Miller said. “… That’s why the game felt funny. Then, in the second half, lo and behold, at each time out we caught back up. We end up out-rebounding them 31-30 in the game and that’s a big, big deal.”

It was a surprising turn of events, to be sure, especially because Michigan State is traditionally so tough around the rim. While the Spartans are clearly banged up and missing — among others — Nick Ward, one of the best forwards in the Big Ten, IU’s rebounding success over the weekend wasn’t a fluke.

Indiana has now out-rebounded Michigan State in each of the last three meetings, dating to last February. The Hoosiers have been particularly active on the offensive glass, grabbing 25, 20 and 15 offensive rebounds, respectively, across those contests.

“You have to be consumed with it, not just when you play them, but you have to be consumed with it every day,” Miller said. “I think we’re a better rebounding team right now in the last few weeks than we’ve been.”

That’s something IU obviously hopes will continue. Illinois, which hosts Indiana on Thursday at the State Farm Center, was out-rebounded in 10 consecutive games until snapping that skid in Sunday’s win over Northwestern.

For the Hoosiers, this week is an opportunity to build off their recent momentum and continue to clean up on the glass.

“Rebounding is huge,” Miller said.