Morgan, Johnson carry IU to 80-77 overtime win over No. 18 Irish

INDIANAPOLIS — The first marquee victory of the Archie Miller era had been bubbling for days.

Between final exams — during early mornings and later nights — Robert Johnson committed himself to extra time in the gym, seeking a fix for the shooting slump that had undercut his game. Juwan Morgan, meanwhile, committed himself to the film room, digesting tape in preparation for his one-on-one matchup with one of college basketball’s best players.

For an Indiana squad that had proven itself capable of competing with top-tier teams, Saturday’s finish was a long time coming. The Hoosiers saw it as another opportunity they couldn’t allow to slip away.

They didn’t.

Morgan and Johnson did the heavy lifting against No. 18 Notre Dame, helping the Hoosiers to an 80-77 overtime victory in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The win, IU’s first victory in three games against ranked opponents this season, was a product of several factors — Morgan’s toughness and moxie in the post, Johnson’s re-emergence as a reliable scorer and Zach McRoberts’ tenacity and knack for the hustle plays.

All told, it was another sign that this team is developing the toughness Miller requires of his players, and after enduring a stretch of five consecutive games against power conference opponents, it served as a reward for a group that refused to back down against a more experienced, skilled foe.

“We’ve been hanging tough here the last couple weeks and just haven’t had the ability to find a way to win,” Miller said. “I thought today’s effort was outstanding.”

That’s due in large part to Morgan setting the tone, carrying his teammates until Johnson stepped forward as the perfect complement.

Morgan posted a double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds, setting a new personal scoring high. He turned in eight points in his first seven minutes, leading an otherwise stagnant offense through the doldrums of another poor shooting half.

“I think today was the first time I actually got a play to just drive it,” Morgan said. “Other than that, I was just getting on the offensive glass and just posting up in the middle of the floor in random possessions. When you do that just randomly, people usually aren’t ready for it. Then, my teammates found me.”

Morgan found himself in some of the game’s biggest moments, particularly down the stretch.

The Hoosiers (6-5) dug their way out of a 13-point, second-half deficit by playing through Johnson and Morgan, who combined for 33 of Indiana’s 40 points in the period. Morgan delivered the game-tying layup with 13 seconds remaining in regulation, locking the game at 65-all.

The Hoosiers, however, required a little luck on the other end.

A borderline call went against Collin Hartman with 0.8 seconds remaining, when Notre Dame’s Austin Torres drove and drew contact against IU’s fifth-year senior. But Torres, a career 42 percent free throw shooter, bricked both attempts at the line for the Irish (8-3) to force overtime.

With the Hoosiers trailing 77-74 in the waning seconds of the extra period, Morgan drove to his right from the top of the key, fighting for space against Notre Dame All-American Bonzie Colson before tossing in a layup and drawing a foul. Morgan missed the ensuing free throw, but McRoberts swooped in and snatched the rebound away from Colson. McRoberts then saw Morgan cut to the rim and dished to the junior forward, who threw down a two-handed slam to put IU on top.

“He’s playing exactly how he practices,” Miller said of Morgan. “When you have guys that come in every day, you watch the practice film and look at the statistics and watch the guy in the game do the same thing (it’s impressive). He should have good confidence with his approach.”

Johnson, meanwhile, seems to be getting his confidence back.

Dating from late in the second half of the Dec. 4 game against Iowa until he hit a corner 3 midway through Saturday’s first half, Johnson had been mired in an 0-for-11 shooting skid from the field. He was particularly irked by a scoreless showing last week at Louisville, and vowed to find a fix.

“He was almost going three-a-days this week,” Miller said. “Finals with no classes, you see him every morning shooting, then practice, then you see him after practice shooting.

“He definitely had a chip on his shoulder about last week’s game. And he delivered today. He made some big shots.”

Indeed, Johnson stepped forward on a day when others couldn’t. Saddled by whistles, Josh Newkirk fouled out after going scoreless in nine minutes. De’Ron Davis didn’t score his first basket until the final 34 seconds of overtime.

So there was Johnson, delivering 15 points over the final 25 minutes and teaming with Morgan to make sure Indiana secured the victory that, for weeks, had eluded the Hoosiers.

“Today,” Johnson said, “was a step in the right direction.”

9 comments

  1. What a come back! ND has got to be in shock, wondering how they let this game slip through their fingers.

    Johnson just mystifies me. He can be so good, and then he can then just disappear. He can light it up from the 3-point line at times, but then make ridiculous mistakes, like stepping out of bounds while catching a pass.

    If this team can improve their shooting, and our guards can reduce the stupid mistakes, IU can become fun to watch and do some damage this year.

  2. SHUDDUP!!!!!!!! You said it was over before halftime. That disqualifies you from opening your fat trap for the rest of the week.

    You acted like this would be the worst team in IU history one week ago. Now you’re saying they can “do some damage this year?” Please SHUDDUP!

  3. Great effort today. Really grinded it out the entire game and never gave up. It’s amazing how this team beats its self by poor foul shooting and uncalled for turnovers. Morgan was great hopefully he stays healthy. Every time this team goes down the court you wonder how they are going to manage to get points on the board. Davis struggled, but he has come up big more times than not this year. Newkirk continues to disappoint. A second game in a row we had a senior gaurd go scoreless. Sit him down and play Durham. Archie is deliverying on his philosophy we can beat anyone anywhere with his style of play. This team has no consistent go to guy. Shooting is inconsistent if not poor. We don’t shoot free throws well yet we completed really well against the #1 team, played Louisville better than we have in years on the road, and beat a top 20 team on a nuetral court…it’s pretty impressive. Going to be scary when Archie gets his hands on some good talent. This year is starting to be fun. Go Hoosiers!

  4. Whether win or lose it gives security to watch coaching strategies and team development. Team control, attitude, development and coaching who are representing themselves and university more fun to watch…one/fans can like and get attached/support.

  5. It is sure nice to see a unheralded kid like McRoberts come back home & play like he does for the name on the front of his jersey. This kid won the game today & he’s a joy to watch. Fundamental. Tough.

  6. Completely agree with the last two comments (t and AWinAZ). McRoberts is one hungry player….Moves extremely well and ferocious going to the glass.

    A Hoosier team finally showing some defensive tenacity and understanding. The defensive focus kept them within striking distance.

  7. McRoberts made the most of his time on the court and made the a great play when it counted most. I hope this gives him confidence to play an even greater role for this team through the rest of the season.

    1. H4H don’t go getting too apologetic on us, will begin to wonder if you are okay or not.

      Pleasantries aside, you and Po, as well as several others thoughts regarding McRoberts are excellent. There were some doubters early on who I hope realize what a special player he is. Not gifted with the talent others on the team possess, but plays the game the way you want to see it played. All heart.

      I suspect Coach Miller sees a little of himself in the way McRoberts plays. When you don’t possess all the physical gifts but still want to play them game, there is only one way to do it. You have to make up for shortfalls with all the spunk and tenacity you can muster. If your an undersized point guard at North Carolina State or a ZM, that’s how you do it. Thus far, I think Zach McRoberts best epitomizes the Archie Miller approach to how the game is to be played.

      This kind of tone can only bode well for the future because it usually is infectious. As other more talented players of the current team and in the future, begin to follow the examples set by Morgan, McRoberts, and a couple others this toughness culture will take hold. It’s going to be a lot fun to watch over the next few years.

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