IU players trying to drive beyond Northwestern loss

After Saturday’s disappointing loss to Northwestern, Indiana’s coaching staff put it on the players to take more responsibility for the state of the team, to become player-driven as their goal so often is.

The Hoosiers have only had one full practice since, but the coaches have been pleased with what they’ve seen so far.

“I would say they’ve become more perceptive as to what we need to do as a team and they’ve been more vocal about it,” assistant coach Tim Buckley said. “When we’re player-driven, we’re always at our best. I think at least in my opinion and watching us over the past couple of days, we’ve taken greater ownership, which is something you always need to build on.”

Redshirt sophomore swingman Austin Etherington said that some of the leaders spoke to the team to get its collective mind right and to move on from Saturday’s loss.

“Obviously Will (Sheehey) and Yogi (Ferrell) being here last year and then playing the majority of the minutes last year, they have been through it differently than some of the other guys, they had a few things to say,” Etherington said. “Evan (Gordon) going through it before. Jeff (Howard) becoming the huge leader that he is. … those are a few of the guys that stepped up and said a few things and talked about things that needed to happen. … Just that that games over with. It’s not something we can hold our head on. We have Michigan State tomorrow. That’s a huge game for us.”

Indeed it is. The Spartans (17-1 overall) come into Tuesday’s 7 p.m. game at the Breslin Center in East Lansing ranked No. 3 in both polls and winners of 10 straight going back to their lone loss on Dec. 4 against North Carolina. They might be playing without star forward Adreian Payne, who has missed the last three games with a sprained foot. That changes the dynamic of their offense some, but it hasn’t cost them yet. They’ve on each of the three games he’s been out by at least 12 points.

“They don’t necessarily set anyone up on the block to play through like they did Payne,” Buckley said. “But Branden Dawson is obviously very capable of posting up and there are situations where they do post him. Probably the post guys that are in there now like (Matt) Costello and (Alex) Gauna and (Gavin) Schilling, they get more things in their pick-and-roll when they roll out of the action and they get drop-offs or they get putbacks. Or they’re facilitators if they throw it in to them. Sometimes they’ll look for cutters or they’ll for the open shooter. But then they can also score. All of them probably have up to 15-foot range and Gauna may be the best one in that regard as far as spotting up or popping out and shooting.”

Regardless of whether or not Payne plays, the Spartans still have two of the league’s premier perimeter players in shooting guard Gary Harris and senior point guard Keith Appling. Harris, a long-time Indiana target, former Hamilton Southeastern star and 2012 Indiana Mr. Basketball, is rounding back into health and playing arguably the best basketball in his career. He ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring with 17.9 points per game and is also fourth in the Big Ten in steals with 29 on the season. He scored 23 points against Illinois on Saturday on 7-for-9 shooting.

“He’s gotten bigger and stronger, and he was already pretty much that as a wide receiver,” Buckley said. “He plays very fluid, very efficiently. He’s always had really good anticipation skills, but he’s even taken that to another level in regard to stealing the ball, deflecting the ball, taking the ball from people when they have it. You’ve got to be really sure with the ball not only when he’s guarding you but also when he’s in the area because he will leave his man and go away and try to take the ball.”

Appling, Buckley said, is also much more efficient. The Hoosiers took him out of both of last season’s games, as he finished a combined 2-for-12 from the field with eight points, two assists and eight turnovers last year in Indiana’s two wins. Appling scored 14 points in Michigan State’s first matchup with IU this season and is averaging 16.1 points and 4.6 assists per game. He’s shooting much better than ever at 48.4 percent from the field and 45.3 percent from beyond the arc.

“I would say he’s been much more efficient,” Buckley said. “I think he’s made better choices as far as when to kick, when to shoot. He’s done a terrific job of getting in the lane. And it’s almost where he’ll cross you over and get to the other side of the basket so that he tries to get you opened up, then he gets that angle where he can score. And what he’s obviously doing is he’s making shots at a very high level from the three-point line. Some of it’s probably his work in the summer with the repetition. Some of it is probably just his shot selection has been pretty good overall.”

The same, of course, could not be said about Indiana in Saturday’s loss when the Hoosiers shot 25 percent from the field, making just four of 18 3-pointers and struggling just as much on layups. The Indiana coaching staff looked closely at film to determine what all went wrong in that regard.

“Doing the things that you need to do fundamentally offensively,” Buckley said when asked what the IU coaches wanted fixed. “Whether it’s inside taking one more dribble, taking it up strong and finishing. Maybe being more shot ready on the perimeter, so you’re ready to catch and shoot. Making good decisions, trying to open up the lane a little bit more with ball reversals. But obviously, a lot of things that we could point to and a lot of areas that we’ve worked on in the last couple of days. Some of it is just getting in the gym and getting ready to shoot the ball and getting good repetitions in that regard.”