Smith authors most complete game as a Hoosier

Monday afternoon’s team film review confirmed to Archie Miller what he thought he saw on Saturday night.

At Michigan State, Justin Smith was at his best.

“He played the most complete (game) and his best game of his college career,” Miller said. “By far.”

This weekend was another example of what Smith’s development might someday yield, an encouraging sign of Smith’s growth potential for the weeks to come. As the Hoosiers continue with the second half of Big Ten play on Thursday night against No. 20 Iowa, Smith’s challenge is to do it again.

“He’s a big key to our team,” Miller said. “When he’s playing very active, especially defensively, I trust him. When he’s playing really hard, he (makes) a lot happen.”

Smith has spent his second season forming an identity in Miller’s system, building a reputation as one of the better defensive players in the Big Ten. He backed up his brand in the 79-75 win over the Spartans, finishing with three blocks — none bigger than his fingertip deflection against Cassius Winston in the final moments of overtime.

“He battled,” Miller said. “I mean, he battled all night long. To me, we couldn’t take him off the floor.”

Smith rewarded his coach’s confidence with a steadier approach on the other end, logging 35 minutes while avoiding the mistakes and clumsiness that have, up to this point, dulled his offensive results.

Smith, one of the most turnover-prone players in IU’s regular rotation, committed only one error against the Spartans. That marked the third time in the past four games that he finished with only one turnover.

Smith finished with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, posting the third double-double of his career.

“Offensively, he really helped us in this game,” Miller said. “Not by scoring a ton of points, but by creating action, moving, screening (and) handling the ball off pick and rolls. He wasn’t much of a guy that would catch it and everybody would stare at him. He was more agile (and) mobile. He created stuff and good things happened for us.”

Turning one balanced performance into another one is Smith’s objective this week. At Michigan State, he offered a glimpse of what his game resembles when he’s poised and focused on both ends.

Defensively, Smith has become a trusted piece to what Miller wants to accomplish with his pack-line scheme. Offensively, there’s still room to establish a measure of consistency in the weeks to come.

At times, opposing teams have sagged off and dared Smith to shoot from long range, a weak spot in his game. During conference play, Smith has often accepted those invitations and fired perimeter shots that have missed far more than they’ve hit.

In 11 Big Ten games, Smith has made only two of his 13 3-point attempts.

Elsewhere, however, Smith has the tools to make a difference as a consistent finisher around the rim. Marrying his competence on the defensive end to his upside on the offensive side is his mission now.

“(I’m) just sticking with it,” Smith said recently. “(I’m) getting more confident within the offense and the defense, just trying to find places where I can make a difference on the floor (and) just picking my spots and not really trying to force anything. Just trying to play as the game comes to me.”

He found the right balance at Michigan State, boosting the Hoosiers to a crucial win in the process.

“Without question, man,” Miller said. “Did he play a good game.”