IU take-aways: Indiana 82, Nebraska 74

IU’s shooting was a step in the right direction.

Shooting on the road was beginning to become a concern after a 36.1-percent outing at Maryland and a 31.7-percent effort at Rutgers.

At Nebraska, the Hoosiers hit 50.8 percent from the field, showing they can find their range without Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall as a backdrop.

At the same time, those results can’t be overstated. The Cornhuskers rank 299th in the nation in average points allowed (74.8) and 203rd in opponent field goal percentage (43.2), both league-worst marks for the Big Ten. They don’t have outstanding rim protection, either, with just 47 blocks on the year, which is 248th overall, 13th in conference.

The teams the Hoosiers are about to play come better equipped on the defensive end. Michigan State, for example, has the nation’s 13th-best field goal percentage defense (37.4), second only to Rutgers (36.4) in the Big Ten. Maryland is just behind those two (37.5).

At home, versus two of the better defensive teams in the country, can the Hoosiers continue to hit shots? They just matched up with the Big Ten’s No. 4 team in field goal percentage defense, Ohio State (37.8), and a 40.8-percent effort was enough for IU to win. But the Hoosiers were also able to hit 6-of-12 from 3-point range that day.

Wherever it comes from, IU needs some level of production from outside the paint to stretch defenses. It may not be so easy to replicate what just transpired in Lincoln, especially on a percentage basis. But when there is an opportunity to hit wide-open shots off of a double of Trayce Jackson-Davis, IU has to continue to convert.

Saturday was a step in the right direction, because the Hoosiers did. But consistency will have to be proven over a longer haul.

This was a shot in the arm for some youngins.

Early in the season, injuries to Rob Phinisee, Devonte Green, and even Al Durham forced Armaan Franklin into some important minutes.

From the opener with Western Illinois, all the way until the conference opener with Wisconsin, the freshman guard averaged nearly 22 minutes per game. That average fell to 12 per in his next eight contests, including just nine minutes combined versus Ohio State and Rutgers.

At times, Franklin seemed somewhat lost on the defensive end. Offensively, he had one show-stopping performance versus Notre Dame but was otherwise more anonymous.

That’s what made Franklin’s 23 minutes at Nebraska such an important turn of events. He hit a couple of 3s on his way to eight points, and they were big shots. He was also active on the boards, pulling down six rebounds.

While his classmate Jackson-Davis has had to work through the trials of being a marked man, Franklin has been challenged with finding his place on the floor. When he’s effective, he’s valuable, because without the ability of freshmen like Franklin and Jerome Hunter to hit shots off the bench, the Hoosiers become much easier to defend.

IU had just two bench points at Rutgers, but that number was back up to 21 at Nebraska, thanks in part to a pair of 3s from both Hunter and Franklin.

After the OSU contest, Miller credited Hunter with the best effort of his college career. He only took one shot in 19 minutes, a miss. But he was aggressive, getting to the free throw line and making 5-of-6. And, most of all, he defended.

Who knows where Franklin and Hunter go from here. But any build in confidence and consistency from those two — on both ends of the floor — would significantly enhance the depth and versatility of this Hoosier squad.

Brunk, Jackson-Davis continue to produce.

Jackson-Davis and his frontcourt mate Joey Brunk took just 15 shots on Saturday.

But they each missed just one.

Again, the ability of the Hoosiers’ guards to hit shots should open up more opportunities for the posts. But they showed an ability to take what the defense was giving.

Brunk and Jackson-Davis were able to feed each other at times, with Brunk able to connect from midrange as defenders sagged off and eyed Jackson-Davis.

“I’ll be getting a lot of reps in and that’ll be something I’ll obviously be working at for the remainder of the season,” Brunk said of that free-throw-line jumper.

Brunk’s ever-expanding game is just a byproduct of a relentless work ethic. He should just get better. So, too, should Jackson-Davis, who had faced his struggles in recent outings, especially on the road.

Saturday was Jackson-Davis’ sixth double-double of the season — his first since Dec. 13 versus Nebraska in Bloomington.

What’s next?

Michigan State, 8:30 p.m. Thursday, at Assembly Hall.

At this point, all four of the Hoosiers’ conference wins have come versus the bottom three teams in the standings: two over Nebraska (2-5), one over Ohio State (2-5), and one over Northwestern (1-6).

Now the Hoosiers (4-3) get their shot at the top tier. Michigan State (6-1) rebounded from a dreadful loss at Purdue with a home win over Wisconsin. Cassius Winston, perhaps the nation’s premier lead guard, is producing 18.1 points and 6.1 assists per game for the Spartans.

IU then hosts Maryland before trips to OSU and Penn State before meeting rival Purdue at home. The road doesn’t get any easier during an uber-challenging Big Ten season.