Miller ready to turn loss into lesson

The past week didn’t propel Indiana into the top 25.

But it did give the Hoosiers a decent sense of who they are and where they stand. That may be as valuable as anything right now.

Archie Miller isn’t always a believer in silver linings. — “I always say if we didn’t win the game, it wasn’t worth playing the game,” he said — but after Sunday’s one-point loss at Arkansas, the second-year IU coach found a new list of teaching points while spending a portion of Monday breaking down the game film.

Now, the Hoosiers have two games during the current holiday week to start putting those lessons to work. Indiana, which jumps back into action Monday at 7 against Texas-Arlington, didn’t end the weekend with the win it wanted.

But the Hoosiers were at least able to start the week understanding where they need to go from here.

“We certainly learned a lot about ourselves,” Miller said.

For Miller, lesson No. 1 was resiliency. His Indiana team seems to have it. On an otherwise sloppy afternoon on both ends of the court, the Hoosiers were merely a tip-in away from claiming a victory in a loud, tough environment.

This, despite foul trouble for starters Juwan Morgan and Robert Phinisee, combined with two sub-optimal performances from graduate transfer Evan Fitzner and sophomore starter Justin Smith. Then, factor in IU’s 18 turnovers, it’s stagnating halfcourt offense and its problems defending an athletic, explosive big man in Arkansas Daniel Gafford, and it’s a wonder the game was that close.

It was because IU hit big shots down the stretch, finally — and forcefully — developing an inside-out offensive attack during the final 10 minutes of regulation.

“Everyone needs to know really where they’re at when adversity hits,” Miller said. “… No. 1, we can respond to it. We have a two-inch tip to probably win that game when we didn’t play our best. I think being able to claw back into it shows that you’re never out of it. You just have to find a way to keep fighting together.”

This Indiana team also learned what it takes to play on the road, something that should serve the Hoosiers well ahead of next week’s trip to No. 1 Duke.

It was a beneficial primer for the three IU freshmen — Phinisee, Romeo Langford and Damezi Anderson — currently playing meaningful minutes inside the Hoosiers’ injury-shortened rotation.

“Being tested on the road is something that the Big Ten is going to really do,” Miller said. “If you can find a way to get a road win, it’s always important. But how you get better from it, how you use this experience to teach your team how to play smarter on the road, or tougher on the road (is important).

“… That’s their first college road game. Until you do one, you don’t really know what it feels like. It’s like I told them, that’s their first one, but each one after this is gonna feel different. They’ll continue to feel even harder.”

Miller also used the Arkansas loss to illustrate how his team needs to be smarter situationally. Take Phinisee, for example.

The freshman point guard picked up his second foul less than a minute after landing his first when he chopped at Arkansas’ Mason Jones on an odd-man fastbreak midway through the first half. The Hoosiers had already lost Morgan — who sat the final 17 minutes of the half — to foul trouble, and Phinisee’s second meant an already short-handed IU squad would have to play without two of its key players for a long stretch.

“We’re trying to teach Rob that when you get one (foul), that’s one thing,” Miller said. “But the second one, if you get it, you gotta earn it. You can’t, on a two-on-one, slap down and give a guy a layup. We need him in the game. He’s too important.”

And he’s all the more important given the injuries that have sapped what appeared to be one of IU’s best attributes — depth.

Langford, who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week on Monday after averaging 22 points a game against Marquette and Arkansas, played all but two minutes of the contest. Al Durham, meanwhile, shifted to point guard with Phinisee in foul trouble and Devonte Green nursing an injury. That all led to Durham logging 36 minutes against a high-pressure, full-court defense.

“They had to play too many minutes,” Miller said. “When you go on the road and you’re getting picked up full court for 40 minutes of play and we’re asking you to play defense the way we like to play defense, it’s impossible to play perfect.”

Indiana will have to continue to figure out how to piece together 40 minutes for at least the next week.

Neither Green (thigh) nor Zach McRoberts (back) are expected to play in either of IU’s two games this week, which concludes with a Friday matchup against UC-Davis. As of Monday night, Miller said he’d be pleased to simply have both players active in practice, with a possible return targeted for next week.

Freshman Jerome Hunter, the second-highest ranked member of IU’s signing class, continues to recover in a Cleveland hospital following last week’s surgery on a “lower body condition” that has kept him out of all four games thus far.

Members of Indiana’s coaching staff flew from Bloomington to Cleveland on Monday morning to visit with Hunter, who could return to campus as soon as Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the rest of Indiana’s team spent the day taking stock of the past week — the good, the bad and the things in between.

It wasn’t what anyone wanted, but Sunday’s loss seemed to provide lessons that mattered. On Monday, Miller and the Hoosiers tried to digest them.

“Quite frankly, we didn’t play well enough to win the game on the road,” Miller said. “I was disappointed in that, because I thought our team was really starting to gain some momentum and confidence, but you have to learn from it and use it as a learning experience. We did that today and we moved on.”