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BREAKING NEWS

TOM DAVIS: Indiana basketball has been transformed – quickly – by Archie Miller

Indiana guard Robert Johnson (4) knocks the ball away from Duke guard Grayson Allen (3) during the first half of a game Wednesday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Duke guard Trevon Duval (1) drives on Indiana guard Josh Newkirk (2) during the first half of a game Wednesday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski motions to his team during the first half of a game against Indiana Wednesday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana University men's basketball coach Archie Miller gestures during the first half of his team's game against Duke Wednesday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Duke guard Gary Trent Jr (2) shoots over Indiana forward Juwan Morgan (13) during the first half of a game Wednesday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Duke University men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, left, meets with Indiana coach Archie Miller before the teams' game Wednesday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Duke's Marvin Bagley III goes to the basket against Indiana's Justin Smith during the first half of a game Wednesday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana's Justin Smith, left, shoots against Duke's Wendell Carter Jr during the first half of a game, Wednesday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)

BLOOMINGTON – There was a game played in front of 17,222 screaming, rabid fans at Assembly Hall Wednesday evening and it featured a men’s basketball team wearing “candy-striped” pants in the warm-ups, with “Indiana” stretched across its chests, and coached by a guy that is as fiery and as serious as a five-vehicle crash, three of which are fuel tankers.

But make no mistake about it, the Indiana team that gave No. 1-ranked Duke all it could handle for 36 minutes was a vastly different team than what took to the same court for its season opener just 20 days ago.

The Hoosiers (4-3) battled the Blue Devils (9-0) valiantly until the final four minutes, when Duke began to make “winning plays,” as first-year Indiana coach Archie Miller called them afterwards, and the visitors were able to pull away for a semi-comfortable 91-81 finish.

“If you get 81 points at home,” Miller said, “you’ve got a win. Period. You get 81 points in your building, you’ve got a win.”

RELATED STORY:5 problems for Indiana against top-ranked Duke

Miller lamented the loss following the game, but there wasn’t an Indiana fan that streamed out of the arena into the mild night that felt their favorite team had truly “lost” very much at all over the course of the previous two hours. That is because of just how far this team has come in the month of November.

On the night of Nov. 10, this same group of players allowed what is proving to be a middling Indiana State team to hit 17 3-pointers and rout the Hoosiers by 21. Fast-forward to Wednesday and the Hoosiers were able to limit Duke to a mere three made 3-pointers, as the Blue Devils shot just 17 percent from long range.

THAT is progress.

“You don’t want to give anybody anything,” Miller said. “I don’t care who you play, if you play Duke or if you play Arkansas State. I think that’s the next step for this team is to bring what we brought tonight and be better at it.”

This team hasn’t just taken steps at both ends of the floor, it has walked a marathon.

Not only is Indiana now capable of defending the nation’s best team on the perimeter, but at the offensive end, Miller has somehow transformed this program into one of careful thought and intellect, which has to stun every fan that has followed this program over its recent past.

During the final portion of the Tom Crean era, Hoosier Nation had had enough of this team’s inability to defend consistently, its style of play, and its poor decision making. Miller has seemingly resolved – to a large degree – all of those issues in one month.

The Hoosiers turned the ball over just nine times (versus 19 against Indiana State for comparison).

“From an execution standpoint,” Miller said, “I think for the most part we took care of the ball and we played with poise.”

It not only “played with poise,” but Indiana displayed a limestone quarry’s worth of toughness in an area in which it was supposedly weak.

Duke is going to dominate a lot of teams with its NBA lottery-filled front court, length and athleticism, and when Indiana starting center De’Ron Davis picked up his second foul after just five first half minutes, Miller had no choice but to turn to his undersized bench.

The scrappy Hoosiers battled with the likes of Collin Hartman (6-7), Freddie McSwain (6-6), and Juwan Morgan (6-8) against multiple guys with 7-foot-plus wing spans and in some unfathomable manner, Indiana actually outscored Duke in points in the paint (46-44) and nearly outrebounded the Blue Devils (Duke held a 33-31 advantage). This is the same Indiana team that got outrebounded by Indiana State, but somehow can now hang with one of the nation’s most feared post attacks.

“They did a really good job,” Miller said of his post reserves. “I think Collin, in particular, you’re starting to see him get back to form and how important he can be for this team.”

“Juwan and Freddie have been doing it together here for four or five games, giving us good effort. And I thought just for the most part those guys are fine right now. They’re confident.”

The entire Indiana University campus is “confident” right now, as Miller has transformed his program into one whose fan base couldn’t help but love.

Indiana is playing hard, smart, and well, and doing so against the best in the nation.

“If we just keep concentrating on teaching and getting better and learning,” Miller said, “we’ll be fine.”

Indiana already is.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at Tdavis@news-sentinel.com.

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