It gave us a chance to get better, to work on things we needed to get better,” guard Josh Newkirk said. “Refresh our bodies.
“It definitely helped.”
The only way to know for certain is to play a game. On Tuesday night, IU (15-12 overall, 5-9 in the Big Ten) faces slumping Iowa (14-13, 6-8), which has lost three straight.
Something has to give, and the Hoosiers can find a positive in the fact that, while they are losing, they are at least competitive. Three of their last four losses have been by five or fewer points, including last week’s 74-73 gut-wrencher at Minnesota.
If that seems a moot point in a lost season, well, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter to the players.
“All the games have come down to the last passion,” forward De’Ron Davis said. “We haven’t lost by much. We’ve got to fight, play possession by possession, and try to pull out a W.”
Losing can fracture team chemistry and make a tough situation worse. Newkirk said that hasn’t happened.
“We have to keep communicating with each other. Keep coming in every day with a positive attitude and be ready to work. We’ve done that.”
That gives IU a chance, on Tuesday, and in its three remaining regular season games – Northwestern on Saturday at Assembly Hall, and then trips to No. 14 Purdue and Ohio State.
“This team is fun to come in every day and coach these guys,” assistant coach Rob Judson said. “They have such tremendous attitudes. They work hard. They’re always ready to go and get the game plan and do the best they can with it.
“We have to have them playing with a narrow focus — one possession at a time, with fundamentals.”
The six days between games were used to sharpen that focus, and more.
“As a coach, when you see other coaches recruiting this time of year, you ask, how much are you practicing?” Judson said. “It’s a balance — you want to keep an edge, but you want to stay fresh. We had a couple of days of edge, a couple days of balance. Hopefully our guys will feel fresh.”
With that comes this over-riding message — everything matters.
“(The Hoosiers) know these games are possession games,” Judson said. “People will always focus on the last possession, but teams that make strides will focus on possessions throughout the game. If you build good possessions offensively and defensively, you get some runs. College basketball is a game of runs.”
Iowa will certainly run, as will the Hoosiers.
“They play 11,” Judson said, “so that gives us a couple of other guys to hone in on.”
The Hawkeyes’ three-game slide reflects their youth (seven freshmen, four sophomores) and Big Ten parity.
Still, they present a formidable challenge. They have, after all, beaten Iowa State, Purdue and Michigan this season.
They have the conference’s leading scorer in 6-6 guard Peter Jok, who averages 20.4 points, plus 6.1 rebounds. His 66 three-point baskets rank second in the conference to IU’s James Blackmon. He also leads the league in free throw shooting, at 91.5 percent.
“Peter Jok is one of the top scorers in the Big Ten,”Judson said. “He can score inside. He can score out. He’s a threat from anywhere on the court, so we’ll have to do a good job with him.”
Guard Brady Ellingson leads the Big Ten in three-point shooting, at 52.8 percent. The Hawkeyes lead the conference in steals (7.4 a game), which reflects their full-court pressure style.
This is a potential problem given IU is last in the Big Ten team in turnover margin. It averages 15.1 turnovers, by far the worst in the conference.
“That’s something we’ll have to combat,” Judson said about Iowa’s pressure. “We’ll have to have good ball care, want to attack their pressure and see if we can get some easy baskets out of it.”
UP NEXT: Indiana at Iowa
TIPOFF: 9 p.m., Tuesday
ONLINE: For more on sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio