IU overcomes slow start, tops Illinois 73-65

Call it a New Year’s resolution. Call it what you will. Either way, Archie Miller entered January with a new objective.

The Indiana coach aimed to create more ball-handling opportunities for Romeo Langford. The star freshman spent the season’s first two months embracing outside expectations for his arrival in Bloomington, proving his highly-anticipated recruitment was worth the hype.

Given what IU lost when starting point guard Rob Phinisee suffered a concussion during a pre-Christmas tuneup game, that mission only took on a greater importance. On Thursday, Langford not only accepted added responsibilities, he produced his best game yet.

Langford totaled a career-high 28 points in No. 21 IU’s 73-65 victory over Illinois at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, taking over in a game where the Hoosiers needed a push. He broke a 32-all halftime tie by scoring each of IU’s first 10 points of the period, including a personal 8-0 scoring run that sent the Hoosiers on their way to their seventh consecutive victory and only their third 3-0 start to Big Ten play since the 2012-13 season.

“I felt like this was my best game so far, all around, maybe on the defensive end, too,” Langford said. “I am getting a lot more comfortable and now that Rob is out for a while with his little injury he has, that called for me to have the ball more in my hands, and I’m comfortable with doing that.”

Really, there aren’t many areas where Langford hasn’t looked good — his 3-point shooting the lone exception. He’s produced double-figure scoring performances in every game he’s played. He’s impacted both ends of the floor and supplied Indiana with the kind of star power its backcourt lacked in recent seasons.

On Thursday he fit the best part of his skill set to exploit one of the biggest weaknesses of Illinois’ frenetic approach, using his downhill driving ability to find open lanes to the basket. In recent weeks, Miller has tried to make Langford more of a focus in the middle of the floor. Putting the ball in his hands and sending him flying off screens is a surefire way to do it.

That was a focal point of IU’s second-half attack. The Hoosiers (12-2, 3-0) weathered a sluggish start before roaring back across the middle portions of the game.

Langford had a big hand in that.

“We wanted him to be more aggressive,” Miller said. “Sometimes you have to get the ball in his hands against a team like this because he’s traditionally not bringing it up. But we allowed him to bring it up a lot more (and) get the ball before we crossed halfcourt a lot more, which allowed him to play with it in his hands.

“That was a big change for us, just having a different guy coming off the screen; a different guy coming downhill on their big guys. He was fantastic, I thought, in that role.”

Langford was both efficient in his shooting (8-for-13) and deliberate in his efforts to get to the line, where he shot 11-for-15. Both his free throw attempts and his makes set career highs.

In his first three Big Ten games, Langford is averaging 21.7 points.

“He’s evolving,” Miller said. “He’s continuing to go do what we ask him to do in terms of getting better. Like I’ve said before, he’s as coachable of a guy as we have on the team, so it’s a credit to him and his work ethic.”

Langford sparked the Hoosiers on Thursday, propelling them through yet another slow start. This one seemed due to a couple of factors — IU’s extended 12-day break between games and Illinois’ frenzied approach to defense.

At one point, Indiana trailed by as many as 10 points to Illinois (4-10, 0-3). By the under-12 timeout in the first half, Illinois was averaging 1.46 points per possession, while shooting 9-for-13 from the field.

“This whole time preparing for them we just knew it was going to be I guess a weird game just because of how frantic they play and how great of a pace they play at,” said IU forward Juwan Morgan, who posted a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds. “I think it just took some time to get used to, and I don’t think we ever went away, even when they went on a run. I think they were up 10. I don’t think we ever just sat back and let them keep hitting us. We delivered a blow to them, too.”

By the midway point of the period, the Hoosiers started to see some defensive payoffs. They bottlenecked Illinois’ offensive pursuit in the halfcourt, leading to a series of shot clock violations. Across a 5:30 span leading into the final media timeout of the period, Illinois committed six turnovers.

From there, IU was on its way to its seventh consecutive victory.

“Even though we really weren’t shooting that well to begin with, we were making them have to work for every shot and I think that wore down on them a little bit,” Morgan said. “I knew we were just going to start making shots eventually and let Romeo get to the rim, making a lot of his foul shots. That opened a lot of things and just Al (Durham), (Devonte Green) and Zach (McRoberts), everybody driving and kicking, I think that really opened up driving lanes for us to score.”

The Hoosiers made six of their final eight field goals entering halftime, including a buzzer-beating tip-in by Justin Smith that tied the contest at 32-32 at the break.

Coming out of the intermission, Langford took over and answered his coach’s call.

“When we had that little slump scoring on the offensive end, I felt like we weren’t driving,” Langford said. “So when I got back in the game, coach told me I needed to get more aggressive to get us going, and that’s just what I did.”

23 comments

  1. Think Green is trying too hard. Something like 3/13 and 4 TO’s.

    Get Rob back and no more injuries (like that will happen), and Morgan being Morgan and Romeo being Romeo, I think Smith and DeRon could make the difference between a good and a really good season.

  2. Fine as sipping a fine glass of wine in the summertime sunshine. But once we get Phinisee back, I’m inclined to prefer his game so divine be left most of the time on a smoother seat of pine. He never see freedom again if turnovers were a federal crime.

  3. When you have four of your thirteen scholarship players out with injuries, that a real problem for Coach Miller. I was in Assembly Hall last night and Green’s decision making was real poor and with Durham in early foul trouble Coach Miller had a problem at the guard position. Romeo carried the team and ran the offense that was ineffective with Green handling the ball, also Green’s floater shot selection was very poor. If coach Miller hadn’t let Romeo taken the offense over I U would most likely would have lost the game.

  4. IU really misses Phinisee. He is steady, handles pressure and starts the offense efficiently. He needs to drive more with the ball and get to the foul line. I think that will come with time. Green is not a point guard. If anything, he is more like a 2-guard because he can shoot the ball. As a ball handler, he does not handle pressure, makes sloppy passes and has trouble starting the offense close to the basket. Archie saw this and had Romeo start handling the ball more. Rob, get well soon! Nevertheless, they won and 12-2 is a very good record. I would like to see them at least split the next two games.

    1. Even Morgan slipped momentarily into the point guard spot…and handled it more calmly.

      I like the fact that Phinisee’s first instinct is not to drive the ball…He let’s the offense develop. He probes and investigates without instantly attempting to rush into the offense or drive into the trees when nothing is there. He is a rare specimen at the position. Even more rare to see such natural and steady instincts from a freshman. A lot of it is his instincts and demeanor …but I gotta believe he was very well coached in high school.
      To showboat or showcase skills is often the hardest thoughts/actions to temper in maturing players who see themselves playing at the next level. I honestly don’t want to see Romeo hardly temper a thing…Let Romeo roam. Let Romeo score. But at the point guard? Sometimes you need skill and tempering. It’s like making a fine sauce containing eggs or cream….You can’t dump the cold into the hot. You extract a bit of hot temperature liquid and whisk a couple tablespoons into the cold mixtures/cream/egg. Flow it slowly back into the hot simmering alfredo. This is Phinisee. He doesn’t dump a cold basketball directly into hot hands.

      1. If our team is an Alfredo sauce, which ingredient is Romeo?

        Starting Five
        Fettuccine: Morgan (wide and the foundation)
        Heavy Cream: Durham (smooth and balanced)
        Egg Yolk: Phinisee (makes it authentic and brings great color)
        Parmigiano Reggiano: Romeo (the must-have cheese)
        Butter: Justin Smith (slips around defenders but he needs to ‘stick’ with it)

        Pot of Boiling Water: Green (should always add a little back into the sauce and turn it over gently)

        Seasonings(salt, pepper, nutmeg): Archie (What’s a good sauce without the perfect seasoning?)

  5. I am certain that every one who reads this site (quasi-) religiously remembers that it was I (THE ROCK) who, after the Duke debacle, suggested “We are a good team when the ball is in Romeo’s hands”).

    I am NOT stating that I believe that Archie Miller read my post and reacted accordingly!

    But it sure is an interesting ‘coincidence’, isn’t it, Harv?

  6. I waited until today to post my comment because I wanted the reflect a bit about what I witnessed last night. I’m happy we won, but terribly disappointed with aspects of the team’s performance. I expected to see significant improvement on certain things after the long layoff

    Once again, we started the game sluggish and fell behind by double digits. What’s it going to take for this team to get off to a fast start?

    Green did some good things last night, but overall, he’s a liability. He’s a turnover machine, and he just doesn’t seem to be learning from his mistakes. Phinisee can’t get back soon enough.

    IU was very fortunate that IL is a terrible offensive team and that the game was played in Bloomington. But the team’s performance seemed to keep the IU crowd subdued for much of the game. I think the fans were befuddled for big portions of the game.

    We’re 3-0 in conference play, and although it is a strong conference this year, we’ve only beaten the three worst teams! If we don’t stop making the stupid turnovers soon, we’re in for a major blow-out loss to Michigan.

    Romeo showed us why he was a McDonald’s All American and so highly regarded coming out of HS. He just took over the game, and even took over the point guard duties toward the end. I was happy to see him finally make a 3-point shot, but he’s going to have to improve his outside shot a lot, and very soon, otherwise, a really good defensive team will limit him driving to the basket and force him to shoot 3’s, which he’s struggling to make right now.

    Free throw shooting looked like it has improved a bit. That’s a relief.

    We’ll learn a lot about this team come Sunday’s game at Michigan.

    1. Archie has brought defensive tenacity back to McCracken. Some of the blindly supportive of the last genius at McCracken must have forgotten what defenses can do to stymie and derail teams(even when we’re shorthanded).

      Rather than continually bash some of our offensive shortcomings in a game we were shorthanded an essential part of our equation necessary in full realization of chemistry and future success, maybe you should acknowledge the level of defense being played by our Hoosiers? What a concept, huh? Defense? Where was it the last 10 years?
      Also acknowledge the wonderful job Morgan did defensively at the high post as he hedged up on Illinois screens to take the guards of the Illini out of flow and rhythm.

      Illinois has a lot of maturing to do. Their team is very young…but they are very athletic. As the conference season progresses, Underwood will get them stronger. They won’t be a simple gimme game in the win column in Champaign–Urbana come late-January forward.

  7. Yes, we are a very good team when Romeo has the ball in his hands.

    But we are nearing a ‘great’ team when it begins with Phinisee. His absence is why you didn’t have your 20 point halftime lead and why Illinois had a late surge. Do you recall the replacement point guard failing to get the ball across the timeline in 10 seconds?
    And let’s not forget who drained the 35-footer at the buzzer against Butler. Without that shot, we’re likely not in the top-25. And the way Georgetown manhandled Butler at Hinkle, the loss would likely be considered a “bad loss” on the tournament résumé.
    I wouldn’t call it a revelation to know Romeo was going to need to initiate and attack a bit more last night without RP in the lineup. And to his credit, he lived up to the task and delivered.

    Let Romeo roam. He’s the big cheese wheel. But he shouldn’t hold the ball Parm-anently. A team has many essential ingredients. 2002 was going nowhere without Jeffries (another Indiana great).

    Against #1 Duke in the East Regional Semifinals, Jeffries had 24 points and 15 rebounds to lead IU to a 74-73 upset victory (courtesy: Wikipedia).

    Phinisee’s importance to this team? Don’t listen to me. See Scoop’s former brilliant basketball analyst, Geoff, over at Inside the Halitosis. After I showed very early admiration for Phinisee’s mature game(making early claims that he would quickly be the starter and relegate Green to a role player), Geoff hopped on the bandwagon and took my foresight and insight to the competitor’s site.

  8. My biggest disappointment of the season is that Hunter hasn’t been able to play, Hunter would have offered an additional talent to the rotation. I U would be a stronger team this year, had he played.

  9. No doubt about it, Rob Phinisee is a wonderful point guard and makes our team better! And there is also no doubt that Defense has returned to Assembly Hall! It was telling that Romeo, in his post-game interview said he felt this was his best defensive game. I have not been disappointed at all this season. Now, we get to see whether we are “elite” (as Michigan most surely is). Can we compete with them and make it a close game or will we be blown out as against Duke? I think we get blown out, but that’s not a medical opinion and I most certainly hope I am wrong wrong wrong. Until proved differently, AWinAZ’s call of the season stands tall.

    1. AWinAZ’s call…? Was that on the bat phone?

      Whether or not Illinois felt like a 20 point halftime “blowout,” it wasn’t. Maybe you’re calling the wrong number…? Try 1-800-Har-vard. I predict you won’t call.

      Doubtful we’ll have Phinisee back…so any insult or lopsided score potentially occurring in Sunday’s game @ Michigan will be an outlier and nothing to hang a hat on (or phone call) with regard to where we stand or where we’ll settle by season’s end.

      Without Phinisee, it will be an immense challenge. Defense is also valued at Michigan. This will take a trio of double figure scorers from IU to stay close.
      Morgan, Romeo and Smith will need to combine for at least 60 of our total.

      But BigTen games of hyped proportion usually end up being “Rock” fights (Let’s get stoned ..and win this one!) Something tells me this game will be closer than anticipated.
      Au contraire…. wherefore art thou be thy foolish nature.

      You guys will hate him(as should be when loyal to the cause), but I am a sucker for “it factor” guys who bring atop their skills an energy, grit and personality to a game. No mo’ Mitch..and no mo’ Mo, but Iggy Brazdeikis is the new boatload of fun in Beilein’s bag of tricks….Iggy is a wild one. He’ll have that Michigan crowd fired up.
      Slow down the energy of Iggy and we’ve got a shot. With Phinisee, we’d have a much better shot.

  10. Our next 4 games are on: CBS, FS1, FS1, FOX. It is only when Northwestern at Northwestern “happens” that we are back on BTN. This means 4 premier/nationally targeted games WITHOUT Dan Dakich to make his assigned (sic) comments. Hooray!!!! (and perhaps we’ll get to hear Rafitery once again intone “Romeo, Romeo, we know where thou are….”!!!!)

  11. as always prescient, H4H. Methinks Iggy is going to pop us one we cannot control. (Also), I think you’re right…without a full-strength Phinisee the diagnosis cannot be confirmed Sunday. (you made an) Excellent chip off the ROCK’s prognosis.

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