Indiana is getting a lift from a surging Collin Hartman

Indiana's Collin Hartman reacts after hitting a shot during the second half of a game against Iowa Monday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana men's basketball coach Archie Miller shouts at his players during the second half of a game against Iowa Monday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Indiana's Collin Hartman shoots against Iowa's Luka Garza during the second half of a game Monday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)
Iowa's Jack Nunge puts up a shot against Indiana's Collin Hartman during the second half of a game Monday in Bloomington. (By The Associated Press)

You could point to late January of last season and say that is when the Indiana men’s basketball team spiraled downward, which ultimately led to the firing of then-coach Tom Crean.

From January 26 on, the Hoosiers dropped 10 of their final 14 games. However, you could just as legitimately point to four months earlier as the turning point for the program, for that is when Collin Hartman injured his knee in a preseason workout in September, and with that injury, the Indiana program lost a critical and cohesive piece to its success.

The presence of Hartman would’ve provided a good amount of the “it factor” to help stave off any extended adversity a year ago, and quite frankly, Crean would probably still be coaching in Bloomington.

Hartman has demonstrated an innate ability to make a team better through not just production, but also communication, and that ability has been evident this season after the graduate student returned from some nagging injuries in the preseason.

It was very noticeable in Monday’s 77-64 Big Ten Conference win over Iowa at Assembly Hall.

“I give him a lot of credit in terms of his spunk, his attitude,” first-year Indiana coach Archie Miller said following the win.

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Unlike Crean, Miller is now the beneficiary of a healthy Hartman and he needed the 6-foot-7 forward desperately Monday.

After tearing off on a 14-0 run over the course of 3:43 late in the first half, the Hoosiers (5-4, 1-1 Big Ten) looked comfortable as they led by 15 (41-26) at the half.

As it turned out, it was a little too comfortable.

Iowa (4-5, 0-2) opened the second half with a big and quick run of its own, as it closed its deficit with a 16-2 run over the span of 3:56.

“I was really pleased,” Miller said of the outcome, “other than the lack of responsibility coming out of halftime. That can’t happen against the teams that we’re playing. That just can’t happen, especially at home.”

Miller’s team proved to be OK in the end, due in large part to the effort of Hartman, among others.

Following the Iowa run, Indiana answered with a stunning 18-0 run of its own over seven-plus minutes to put the game away and Hartman was all over the place during that streak.

Hartman scored just three of those 18 points, but he grabbed four rebounds during the run and also dished off a couple of assists.

“Collin was a big part of that,” Miller said of the run. “Collin is a leader. He’s a fifth-year guy and anytime that your seniors are out there playing well and talking and communicating, good things can happen.”

“Good things” have been happening over the course of the past week as Hartman has gotten healthier and increased his playing time.

Even though Indiana lost to Duke and at Michigan in the past week, Hartman played important roles in helping his team be competitive in those games.

He scored 11 points against Duke and tied teammate Juwan Morgan with a team-best eight boards in Ann Arbor.

Hartman played a season-high 20 minutes against Iowa (he is slowly returning from ankle and groin injuries), but he totaled 13 points and five boards to go with those two assists.

“Everything is better when you win,” Hartman said. “I think we are coming together as a team and learning from the film sessions. Seeing what we can get better at is always good and I think a lot of guys are buying in.”

Morgan had a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while De’Ron Davis (13 points, six rebounds) and Devonte Green (12 points, four assists) also chipped in.

Indiana will travel to Louisville Saturday at 2 p.m. (ESPN).

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.