IU Insider Zach Osterman discusses the Hoosiers’ closer-than-it-should-have-been 86-77 win over Howard, which featured strong play from some of the Hoosiers’ youngest players.
Zach Osterman / IndyStar
BLOOMINGTON – At Indiana, players who attend the postgame news conference are mostly chosen in-house.
With some exceptions, it is IU’s media relations staff that chooses who faces the media in front of the branded backdrop at the end of the night. It’s a bellwether for who had a good game, or at very least who is most qualified to talk about whatever just happened.
On Sunday night, two freshmen followed sports information director J.D. Campbell into the Assembly Hall press room.
New coach Archie Miller’s first win at Indiana came courtesy of the kids, first and foremost. An 86-77 victory, closer than it should have been because of 17 missed free throws, still got the Hoosiers back to 1-1 on the season.
And it was made by a promising night from IU’s freshmen and sophomores, who combined for 59 points, 27 rebounds and 14 assists Sunday.
“These guys don’t have to change, the young guys,” Miller said. “They just have to do what we ask them to do.”
That answer was prompted by a question about a theme Miller returned to often in the summer and early fall. He said IU’s freshmen in particular had an unusual leg up on the Hoosiers’ older players, because everyone was on the same footing. Nobody had any institutional memory working the way Miller wants to work, or playing the way Miller wants to play. Everyone started on a level field.
The natural follow to that is younger players are more malleable, simply because there’s nothing for them to unlearn or relearn. They are unmolded clay.
Sunday night, a few of them started to take shape.
IU coach Archie Miller discusses the Hoosiers’ 86-77 win over Howard, Miller’s first at Indiana.
Zach Osterman / IndyStar
Sophomore big man De’Ron Davis scored 17 points, a career high and his second double-figure scoring outing in as many games. He handled Howard’s 2-3 zone just fine.
Freshman forward Justin Smith stole Davis’ spotlight with his first-career double-double, 16 points and 12 rebounds, making the most of minutes afforded him by Juwan Morgan’s ankle injury.
“Justin had a good game for him to sort of play, because he was given an opportunity to play in and around the paint area,” Miller said. “He was able to show a little bit in those tight quarters what he can kind of be for us, in the zone or maybe in the post at times.”
Freshman guard Al Durham showed Assembly Hall why Miller was so eager to have him over his hamstring problem and off his preseason minutes restriction. In 30 minutes from the bench, Durham scored 16 points on just nine shots, and added three assists and three rebounds.
“Al’s really been productive in terms of assist-to-turnover, quality shots and defensively,” Miller said. “He’s hung tough and he’s done what we’ve asked him to. But for the most part, he’s made more plays for others.”
Indiana’s roster has six scholarship juniors and seniors, but it was freshmen and sophomores that sparked the Hoosiers to life against overmatched Howard. Defeat Sunday would have been even more concerning than Friday’s 90-69 loss to Indiana State, and while it was never likely, it was noteworthy that youth carried the day.
Some of IU’s veterans are clearly still adapting to Miller’s system. Some, like Collin Hartman and now Morgan, are struggling with injuries.
It isn’t practical to expect freshmen and sophomores to carry this team all season. But if they are the catalyst for early success — and perhaps a needed spark for those veterans, with a brutal November/December slate intensifying Wednesday at ranked Seton Hall — then so be it.
Indiana as a whole is a work in progress right now. The youngest Hoosiers might be progressing the fastest.
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.