TOM DAVIS: Indiana competed with its much-better rival, which is ‘all you can ask for’
There isn’t a third column listed in the Big Ten standings under the abbreviation of “MV” for “Moral Victories,” there are just a “W” and an “L,” so first-year Indiana men’s basketball coach Archie Miller wasn’t satisfied because the Hoosiers played Purdue tough before falling 74-67 at Assembly Hall on Sunday.
The coach wasn’t satisfied, but because he has a brain, Miller wasn’t terribly upset either.
For so many legitimate reasons, Indiana had no business being in this game, but with 69 seconds left on the clock, it was a one-possession game that could have gone either way.
“We competed,” Miller said of his out-manned, out-talented, out-experienced, and out-healthed (if that is a word) squad.
Indiana definitely did that, which it mostly has for the past seven games, which is a sign of growth for this program.
The Hoosiers (12-10, 5-5 Big Ten) played hard and smart and had challenged the No. 3-ranked Boilermakers (21-2, 10-0) like few have, before Purdue’s talent and execution showed like it almost always has this season and the Boilers won for the 17th consecutive time.
The victory kept the Boilermakers in sole possession of first place in the league ahead of Ohio State (9-1) and Michigan State (8-2).
“Without question,” Miller continued, “I thought we played extremely hard. I think you are looking at a team that understands this type of competition level (and) what you have to do.
“I don’t think anybody left the arena tonight and said ‘Those guys didn’t bring it.'”
The 17,222 fans in attendance couldn’t have felt that way, nor should they have, which is different from earlier this season.
During the first two months of this season, the effort, intellect and execution of Miller’s team wavered not just game to game, but sometimes minute to minute.
The Hoosiers could beat nationally-ranked Notre Dame one game and get smoked by Fort Wayne the next.
That inconsistency was on full display in the Big Ten-opening loss at Wisconsin 25 days ago, however, it has rarely showed up since.
Indiana hasn’t always won its games this month, but it has rarely been because the players weren’t trying.
“The disappointing thing is that it’s about winning,” Miller said.
It is, but given the fact that Indiana is without starting center De’Ron Davis for the rest of the season (Achilles injury) and now key reserve forward Collin Hartman (“lower leg injury) “for an extended period of time,” according to Miller, the rational faction of the Hoosier Nation should be willing to accept toughness and brains, if not victories.
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Indiana (12-10, 5-5 Big Ten) did a lot of positive things against a Purdue team that most certainly has Final Four potential.
Purdue (21-2, 10-0) entered Sunday’s game as the best 3-point shooting team in the Big Ten (by far), but the Hoosiers challenged the Boiler shooters (who are everywhere) into missing 13 of their 18 attempts from beyond the arc.
It was the worst performance by Purdue in that regard in 15 games and second worst this entire season.
Specifically, the Hoosier defense forced stupendous Purdue sophomore guard Carsen Edwards into 3 of 10 shooting, which was his worst in six games.
In addition, Indiana outrebounded Purdue 31-30, despite a monumental size difference, as 6-foot-8 Juwan Morgan and 6-foot-6 Freddie McSwain tried their best to contain (to a degree) 7-foot-2 Boiler beast Isaac Haas.
“We knew that with the size disadvantage,” Morgan explained of his team’s defensive strategy in the post, “we knew that we couldn’t panic. We couldn’t just foul them.
“We knew that if we could just wall up between him and the basket and try to get as many (rebounds) as we can, and then we just tightened up as far as everywhere else.”
Haas still did his damage, as he scored 26 points on 10 of 17 shooting, but he only grabbed five rebounds, while Indiana had four players (Justin Smith, Morgan, Zach McRoberts and Robert Johnson) with at least six.
Offensively, the Hoosiers shot 50 percent from the field, which aside from Michigan’s incredible 60.3 percent performance Thursday in West Lafayette, it was the most successful an offense had been against the Boilermakers this season.
“It’s big time,” Miller said. “You’re playing against the best teams in your conference. The stage is big.
“I thought we rose to the occasion, in front of an amazing crowd, and guys really competed, played hard, and fought. That’s all you can ask for right now.”
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.