IU take-aways: Indiana 66, Northwestern 62

This isn’t working.

Following two road blowouts and a close call at home to Nebraska, squeaking out another home win over Northwestern wasn’t going to inspire confidence in Indiana as it heads deeper into Big Ten play.

So as Wednesday’s postgame news conference veered toward more questions about the Hoosiers’ anemic offense, their propensity for untimely turnovers, and just a general lack of consistent effort and focus, third-year coach Archie Miller had to confront the obvious.

Something has to change.

“As a coaching staff and as a team, as you’re trying to evolve and get better and you’re pointing out things that you need to do to improve, and you see guys do the same certain things after the fact, game in and game out, it deflates you,” Miller said. “And guys get frustrated.”

Whether this game is a turning point in IU’s season or just another step down a path toward total system failure has yet to be determined. But it’s clear that a lot has to change, and Miller wasn’t dancing around it.

His most direct point was in regards to the Hoosiers’ current 11-man rotation, which was initially billed as a potential strength of this team. It was a group that seemed even in talent level, from the first guy to the last, giving IU the potential for versatility and fresh legs.

But with so many of those pieces providing inconsistent play, Miller doesn’t seem inclined to let all 11 see the floor anymore. The leash has shortened, and minutes are going to be lost or earned according to certain standards.

The backcourt, in particular, has to move the ball better and more securely. They have to create offense via defense. They can’t deflate when things aren’t going their way.

Miller perceived that buy-in from his players had become “conditional,” based on how the night was going. A coach can’t live with that.

“Like I said to them after the game, strength in numbers is only going so far right now. The number has the shrink maybe, in my opinion, for some guys to get a jolt,” Miller said. “But like I said, we’ll have to find the guys ready to roll at the start of a game that are ready to play like we need to play, and like our fans and our crowd and everybody wants to see.”

IU must create offense from defense.

In the final 12 minutes of Wednesday’s contest, the Hoosiers turned a near-disaster into a dramatic escape.

That flip was in large part due to IU’s amped-up pressure, which helped create more points in transition.

Junior guard Al Durham was the tip of the spear, picking up full-court on Northwestern’s guards. IU’s first-half advantage of 4-0 in fastbreak points bloated to 17-2 by the night’s end.

“We just emphasized our defense. We had to get stops,” Durham said. “Our stops led to our offense. … We have to put more pressure on the teams that we’re playing and let that lead to offense and that will disrupt them, I guess.”

A more aggressive Durham benefited the Hoosiers on both ends. Not only was he leading IU’s defensive attack, but he was attacking the lane on the offensive end and getting to the free throw line.

On a night where the Hoosiers shot 37 percent from the field, Durham was 2-of-7. But he hit 11-of-12 from the free throw line, which, along with IU’s fastbreak points, was another determining factor in a disaster-turned-escape.

As the Hoosiers move forward, defense-to-offense must be supplied consistently, which means players like Durham and Rob Phinisee, in particular, will have to apply pressure.

“Navigating deep waters. Lose a couple here and there, lose confidence, what’s wrong, blah, blah, blah, and it can play a role. That’s when you need your older players and you need your most experienced guys to come ready to roll,” Miller said. “I give Al a lot of credit tonight. He played like a leader, did a really good job for us.”

The frontcourt is providing some anchor.

The struggles of the backcourt can’t be ignored, and the Hoosiers will only go as far as their ball-handlers take them.

But one positive has been the consistency of IU’s posts, freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis and junior Joey Brunk. When it comes to effort, it’s hard to find moments where the two Indy products aren’t giving their all. And they produce.

Jackson-Davis finished with 21 points and seven rebounds versus the Wildcats, while Brunk had his fourth consecutive game with double-digit rebounds.

Jackson-Davis, like Durham, played a pivotal part at the foul line. He hit 5-of-6 in a second-half turnaround, proving good things happen when the Hoosiers get the ball inside.

“It wasn’t like an apparent decision, ‘Hey, we’re not going to shoot as many 3s.’ It’s just kind of how it happened,” junior forward Justin Smith said. IU was 0-of-4 from 3 in the second half. “But I think, going forward, it’s a good idea to use our length and our strength inside to draw fouls and put pressure on the defense inside.”

What’s next?

Ohio State, 12 p.m. Saturday, at Assembly Hall

When Miller talked about what needed to change, he repeatedly referenced the Hoosiers’ next visitor.

“We’re struggling, a little bit of a rut, and we’ve got to punch through that wall a little bit,” Miller said. “And I’ll say, if you’re not ready to go on Saturday, that’s a problem.”

The No. 11 Buckeyes (11-4, 1-3 Big Ten) limp into this one following consecutive losses to West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Maryland. But they are still formidable, especially with junior forward Kaleb Wesson (14.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg) as an anchor.

Ohio State has excelled on the defensive end, holding opponents to a league-low 58.9 points per game. But in their last three losses, the Buckeyes have shot just a touch under 34 percent from the field.