My Two Cents: Road Win Nice, But How Indiana Did It Was Even Better
LINCOLN, Neb. — Finally, you can check off that box about winning on the road in the Big Ten for Indiana. They came and went from chilly Nebraska on Saturday night, and headed home with a critical 82-74 victory over the Cornhuskers.
To say it was huge can't be overstated enough. It's very hard to win on the road in this league this year, so coming to Nebraska and winning was a necessity, because even though they can be a pain-in-the-butt team a lot of the of time, the Cornhuskers are going to finish near the bottom of the league standings. So winning here was a must.
The Hoosiers got that done, which was nice.
But how they did it, that's what really mattered. After struggling to finish around the rim for a couple of weeks, Indiana's front line of Trayce Jackson-Davis, Joey Brunk and Justin Smith dominated this game. That was huge.
So was getting a jolt from the bench when they really needed it in the first half. That's something that's been missing from Indiana's game, too.
Saturday night, thankfully, it all came together.
"That was a good win for our team,'' Indiana coach Archie Miller said. "We finally had an opportunity here to breakthrough and win away from home in conference. It's very difficult, and it has been well documented, but I thought our guys played really together, and I thought they played hard for the most part, especially defending their 3-point line against a really tough cover.''
It looked like Indiana might be in trouble early at a raucous Pinnacle Bank Arena, which was sold out and was very loud. Nebraska guard Cam Mack was doing just about anything he wanted against Indiana's defense, scoring at will and finding open shooters with great passes as the Cornhuskers dashed out to a 23-14 lead in the first seven-plus minutes that included an 11-0 run.
"Early in the game, they were faster than us. Their transition attack was coming downhill,'' Miller said. "Their guards were at the basket. Their spacing is so key. I think there's maybe one or two players in college with the ability to pass the ball like Cam Mack passes the ball. He's not seeing the first read. He's picking on your second and third guys with one-handed baseball passes on a dime. He's a special passer.
"They got those three straight 3s. That's what they do. They go in bunches. You watch them play here against Iowa and Purdue — (wins by Nebraska) — and they can get points in bunches. You just have to hang in there and weather the storm a little bit.''
The Hoosiers did just that, thanks to a nice contribution from the bench, which has struggled of late. Jerome Hunter hit a pair of 3-pointers, Armaan Franklin had a 3-pointer and a layup, plus a perfect pass on a dunk by Jackson-Davis, and even De'Ron Davis contributed off the bench with two first-half baskets. It helped Indiana storm back ahead and lead 46-41 at halftime.
"Our bench made some shots. Jerome [Hunter] and Armaan [Franklin] came up big. I think Devonte [Green] may have hit one,'' Miller said. "Once we got cooking a little bit, we scored 46 in the first half, and that carried over into the second half. I thought we pushed the ball. We were able to go inside. Our bench was key in the first half. It was huge. ''
The big guys were great all night, finishing hard at the basket, which has been a struggle of late, too. They helped Indiana push the lead out to 19 midway through the second half. Nebraska made a run when Indiana went cold — making only 1-of-10 shots at one stretch — but the Hoosiers hung on to win by eight.
Jackson-Davis, who had been held to single digits in all three conference road games, had a huge night with 18 points and 13 rebounds. He was 6-for-7 from the field, and made 6-of-8 free throws, including two late when Nebraska was getting a little too close for comfort in their rally.
Joey Brunk had 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting and Justin Smith had 15 points and seven rebounds. That's a good night for the front line.
"In the second half, I thought our big guys did a great job of commanding the ball. We were able to play inside-out for a good portion,'' Miller said. "We played as well offensively as we have in a while. You can't put a price on a game in this league if you are able to win it away from home.''
Indiana tied a season-high with 21 assists, which was big. They only had six assists in the loss against Rutgers.
"We had 21 assists, which I don't think we've had 21 assists in any of the Big Ten games combined,'' Miller said with a bit of sarcasm, but he's not too far off. In Indiana's three conference losses, they only had 25 combined assists. "This time, we made some shots."
Indiana made eight 3-pointers, which they've only done three times all season. (They had nine against Troy, and eight against North Alabama back in November). In the three conference losses, they've been horrible from deep, making only 11 total shots from deep — and eight of those came AFTER they were down by 15 points or more.
Now that the road jinx is over, Indiana can look to prepare for a challenging week at home against Michigan State and Maryland, probably the two best teams in the league. All three of them are 14-4 overall, tied for the best overall record in the Big Ten.
Don't forget that about Indiana. Overall record? Tied for the best in the league right now.
"It goes without saying that it is very hard to win in this league on the road, and I think every team is going to experience their ups and downs,'' Miller said. "We are no different. I am proud of our guys, because they had a hard loss at Rutgers on Wednesday. Being able to come out with one tonight is really important for us moving forward.
"I know what we have coming up. Every team has to play everybody. The Big Ten is going to be one of the more jumbled leagues until somebody can start to get a few of these road wins and then hold serve at home. It's a great league. This place is always one of the tougher places to play. We're thankful. We are very happy to get out of here with a win.''