Hoosiers turn away Golden Eagles, 87-59

Monday’s loss ate at Archie Miller, the selfish offense and absent defense leading to one of the most perplexing nights of his coaching career.

The ensuing days were filled with hard practices and harder truths for individual players. Miller approached each of his players, challenging them over the lapses that led to the embarrassing home loss to Fort Wayne.

Being the bad guy is not necessarily a role Miller relishes, but he made clear that what happened at the start of this week can never happen again.

“Every single guy needed a challenge this week,” Miller said. “It’s not easy to be negative, but at the same time, it’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable what happened Monday.”

Thursday’s 87-59 win over Tennessee Tech wasn’t beautiful basketball, by any means. But it was certainly the result Indiana needed to achieve.

The Hoosiers (7-6) turned in a better defensive performance against their Ohio Valley Conference opponent, forcing the Golden Eagles (8-5) into prolonged stretches of stagnant, punchless offense. They did so with increased on-ball pressure, one of the hallmark principles of Miller’s pack-line defense.

That pressure was altogether missing against the Mastodons, and it was one of the focal points of practice in the days leading into Thursday’s chance to respond. Holding off Tennessee Tech, which shot 37.5 percent (24-for-64) from the field and 27.8 percent (5-for-18) from 3-point range doesn’t mean anything is fixed, of course, but it was the kind of night this team needed.

“I think I’m going to have to be a raving lunatic every day regardless whether you win by 30 or lose by 30,” Miller said. “It’s got to be the same. There’s an approach here that is easy to come off of a high and make you feel good and a lack of responsibility to understand how every game is important. And, yeah, probably going to have a lot of headaches over the next couple of months.”

IU’s Josh Newkirk led all scorers with 20 points, while Kajon Mack led the Golden Eagles with 14 points. The Hoosiers return to action on Dec. 29 against Youngstown State in their non-conference finale.

Thursday also featured a more aggressive Zach McRoberts. Although shooting and scoring has been a gaping hole in McRoberts’ game during his first year and a half with the program, he allowed himself to take open shots against Tennessee Tech. McRoberts finished with eight points and made multiple 3-pointers for the first time in his career.

“That’s something that comes in practice, just being aggressive every day and carrying that over into games,” McRoberts said.

McRoberts entered play with merely 14 shot attempts on the season. He finished 3-for-7 from the field against Tennessee Tech.

“Part of it may have been their style,” Miller said. “They chose not to guard him. So he found himself open and he didn’t hesitate. I think in the second half the shots he got were really good ones, and I was happy to see him make a couple because that’s a big thing for him is being able to create a little offense out there. But Zach’s done a nice job. He’s been a really nice, bright spot for us in the month of December.”

Otherwise, it was a choppy offensive night for the Hoosiers, who weathered some bad early turnovers and questionable shot selection from the perimeter.

Indiana went 3-for-12 from beyond the arc during the first half, but took a 38-26 lead into the locker room. IU was a little more crisp in the second half, shooting 10-for-20 inside the arc.

“It’s been a tough couple days, not just for our players, but I think our entire program,” Miller said. “We went back to work and really challenged our guys to get up off the mat, so to speak, even though you don’t feel right, but competition is everything. I think we really competed the last couple of days in practice and I think it showed tonight that we were a harder playing team. We were a smarter team.”