4 things we learned from IU’s win at Michigan State

1. The Hoosiers rediscovered their former selves.

They could’ve crumbled. Plenty of times.

Instead, the Hoosiers rose to the moment and saved their season.

Indiana entered a raucous environment inside the Breslin Center and provided the better effort. IU outplayed No. 6 Michigan State in the 79-75 overtime win, while avoiding the prolonged offensive droughts that doomed the team during its recent seven-game losing streak.

They did it all without their most important player, sticking together when Juwan Morgan went to the locker room with a left shoulder injury late in the first half. Justin Smith’s presence was felt on the defensive end. Al Durham played with the toughness and energy that has come to be expected from him. Romeo Langford was Romeo Langford.

For the first time in a month — perhaps longer? — Indiana looked connected. The Hoosiers looked poised.

Most importantly, they looked tough.

It all added up to IU’s first road win over a top-10 team since Tom Crean’s Hoosiers beat Michigan to win the 2013 Big Ten title on the final day of the regular season.

Saturday’s win came only eight days after IU coach Archie Miller publicly called out his team’s fragility, lamenting how “soft and scared” the Hoosiers looked during an embarrassing home loss to No. 5 Michigan.

Against Michigan State, IU looked different. The Hoosiers looked like their former selves, rediscovering the personality they cultivated during the season’s first few weeks.

“I meant every word of it,” Miller said, reflecting upon his words after the Michigan loss. “I mean, there was absolutely zero toughness, zero passion to compete (against the Wolverines). With the offense looking like it is, I mean, it’s almost as if we started to go in that route of one end’s gloomy, so the other end’s going to be gloomy. We had to get out of ourselves, we had to understand what we had to get going here, and it started with leadership. I think we have clarity on that now.

“We played hard (on Saturday night), we played unselfish, and I can’t complain about that. It’s not all them, either. When you’re a soft team, or when your coach says something like that, the coach is soft too, he means it. I mean, I didn’t say anything I didn’t believe our team wasn’t or I wasn’t doing for them. Again, it starts at the top, always goes to the bottom. You’ve got to be able get your message across, you’ve got to be able to get some things to sink in, and without question, (Saturday) we looked like a different team.”

The question now becomes, is this sustainable? A few areas inside of Saturday’s win — 50 percent 3-point shooting, outrebounding MSU, 48-40 — will be tough to repeat with regularity. One great win doesn’t mask the flaws inherent within this group.

But there’s no good reason why Indiana can’t continue to play as tough as it did against the Spartans. In East Lansing, the Hoosiers displayed the kind of grit that propelled them to a 12-2 start to the season. They played hard, displaying a will to win.

Although it’s still not clear exactly who this team is — or wants to be — the capacity is still there to play hard and play tough.

If that continues, the Hoosiers will have plenty to play for.

2. Indiana found its shooting stroke.

One of the keys to beating Michigan State — or any good team on the road, for that matter — is hitting the shots that open along the perimeter.

In the Spartans’ three losses prior to Saturday, they allowed at least 10 3-pointers. Kansas hit 10 of 23 in a season-opening win over Michigan State. Louisville also hit 10 in a ACC/Big Ten Challenge victory in November. Just last week, Purdue used 12 3-pointers to dispatch the Spartans in West Lafayette.

What seemed like an unlikely scenario for the Hoosiers came to fruition. IU went 10-for-20 from beyond the arc, matching its season high. The Hoosiers saved the bulk of those big shots for late in the contest, hitting seven of their final 10 3-pointers. At one point late in regulation they connected on four in a row.

The Hoosiers remain the worst 3-point shooting team in the conference, having made only 27.9 percent of their shots beyond the arc during league play. When Evan Fitzner drained a deep shot four minutes into the second half, it marked his first 3-pointer since Dec. 19.

One game doesn’t change the fact that this team, by its nature, won’t want to find itself in any jump shooting contests down the stretch. But perhaps a performance such as this is enough to help boost the Hoosiers’ waning confidence.

“We went into practice and worked on our flow offense, our movement,” Romeo Langford said. “We just executed it real well tonight.”

3. The bench was outstanding.

Through a combination of injuries, inexperience and developmental growing pains, Indiana’s reserves haven’t produced at an adequate level for much of the season.

That wasn’t the case on Saturday.

The bench scored 28 points — five more points than it produced across the previous three games combined. Not only did IU’s subs score, they offered hustle plays, too.

“Our guys came off the bench and they were ready to play from six to eight players,” Langford said. “However many players we played, they were ready to play, and that was a big key to our win. Some of our guys got in foul trouble, and the guys on the bench, the next man up was ready to play.”

De’Ron Davis and Devonte Green gave IU crucial contributions, with Davis providing a presence in the post and Green giving the Hoosiers a shooter on the outside.

Davis logged a season-high 25 minutes after playing only 22 minutes since Dec. 22. He also scored a season-high 12 points and added six rebounds and four assists after missing the past three games with an ankle injury.

Green played 34 minutes, adding 11 points, three 3-pointers, five rebounds and five assists in his first game back from a three-game suspension. Say what you will about Green, and through his erratic play and approach, he’s earned a critical look. But he’s one of the few players on this team with the capacity to hit shots, just as he did at Michigan State.

The Hoosiers need that arrow in their quiver.

“They’re two juniors,” Miller said. “That makes a big difference for our team. Them coming back tonight obviously helped our depth.”

4. Romeo Langford delivered winning plays down the stretch.

Although he finished merely 6-for-18 from the field, Langford surfaced when IU needed him most.

For Langford, 12 of his team-high 19 points came during the final 13 minutes of the contest. As IU and Michigan State went blow-for-blow late, Langford injected himself square into the middle of it.

His stepback with 3:34 remaining in regulation gave the Hoosiers a three-point lead, and after Kenny Goins’ third 3-pointer of the game briefly put the Spartans ahead by one, Langford answered with a drive straight down the lane to help IU retake the lead.

Langford’s 3-pointer at the 3:13 mark of overtime put the Hoosiers ahead for good.

And while his scoring was much-needed, there were different dimensions of his game that pleased Archie Miller the most.

“The thing I was proud of Romeo about was his energy level defensively,” Miller said. “Rebounding. Made a lot of plays for us tonight that didn’t have anything to do with scoring. And I think that’s the thing that goes really unnoticed about him at times. People want to say, score, score, score, score, and at the end of the day are you playing winning basketball complete? He’s a complete guy, and tonight he really didn’t let anything bother him. He just hung tough the whole time, made some really timely, big buckets at the end of the clock. To me, on this kind of stage, as a young player, that’s what you like to see with him. No complaints with Romeo’s attitude and effort. He’s an unbelievable kid and teammate.”

2 comments

  1. Now let’s get this bunch into the NCAA Big Dance!

    Wow…No top-10 win on the road since the ball hung on the rim in final seconds and rolled our way against Michigan?
    And what’s happened with Michigan since that moment? Three Elite Eights…two Final Fours…and two Monday night championship games(runner-ups)….and continually in the limelight during March Madness.
    Though Beilein, much like Izzo, has quite the difficult time taking home the grand prize once in the Final Four.

    Gotta hand it to Bobby. Once he got to the Final Four, his teams took 3 of 5 in the form of banners back to McCracken.

    Let’s keep this thing rolling!

    It wouldn’t be Harvard if I didn’t offer a downside from our stunning upset. I hope it wasn’t a big blow to Phinisee’s confidence. He had a giant goose egg with only 2 rebounds. As solid as Green played for most of the game(minus a couple critical errors at the end which could have easily given us massive heartbreak and a final nail in a coffin made of knotty skid pine), we need Phinisee to be the backcourt leader. I simply don’t have enough faith in Green’s ability to play heady basketball(though Saturday was certainly his best showing of the season).

  2. It doesn’t get easier for Archie(in terms of keeping chemistry alive) because he now has a difficult decision to make. Green hit some big perimeter shots….We need that confident stroke from the outside to weather storms.

    Does Archie make a starting point guard change….and slip Green into the slot? Phinisee has yet to look confident since his severe concussion. How long does Archie stay patient with a player not himself….in a season with a potential to be restored but far from totally “rescued?”

    Any thoughts from fellow Scoopers? Start Green…or start Phinisee?

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