(IU BASKETBALL RELEASE)
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Jerome Hunter wasn’t going to have it.
Neither were the Indiana Hoosiers.
During Wednesday night’s be-tougher-than-the-other-guy 82-72 victory over Minnesota, with the Gophers trying to impose their will at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, IU set the record straight.
Don’t mess with the Cream ‘n Crimson.
“They tried to test us,” Hunter said. “They try to do that with the team they think we are. As long as they do that, we’ll show them we won’t be pushed around. We’re not soft.”
Hunter certainly wasn’t. The sophomore swingman’s career-high 16 points came on 5-for-6 shooting. That continued a new-found edge since returning from a two-game visit to his coach’s doghouse. Archie Miller called it, “coach’s decision.”
“I let my team down,” Hunter said. “I came back with a chip on my shoulder. I apologize. I’m here to help us win.”
Hunter has done that. He had 10 points against Ohio State, which came after totaling seven points and five rebounds at Northwestern.
“Since his return,” Miller said, “he’s played well. He’s played confident. He’s played hard and physical. He’s brought that to practice. He’s playing like he practices. He competes every day. He’s not messing around. His attitude is good.
“He’s playing to win. He has great confidence in his shot. He’s playing through his mistakes. He’ll play a big role for us down the stretch.”
Added guard Aljami Durham: “He works hard. He showed what he can do. I look forward to that as we continue the season.”
As far as any suggestion IU is soft, Miller pointed out that, “When it mattered most, we started to get some key stops.
“Our toughness level is questioned because we are slow to the ball. We are a little slow to be aggressive in terms of how hard you have to be. We’re focusing on doing more little things.”
The attitude, the effort, the willingness to practice hard no matter what happens in a game, he added, gives the Hoosiers a chance.
Or, as Durham put it about the closing minutes, when IU (12-9 overall, 7-7 in the Big Ten) pulled away with a 16-2 run, “We played team defense. We finally locked in. We strung a couple of stops together. That led to that gap we made at the end of the game.”
Drama was everywhere you looked in a game that featured eight ties and eight lead changes amid strong postseason implications.
Then the Hoosiers’ three-point shooting and defense took over. They were 5-for-7 in a decisive second-half stretch that turned drama into double-digit victory.
“Offensively, we were efficient when we didn’t turn it over,” Miller said. “At the end, we were able to make our free throws again. That big stretch came from defense to offense. We finally got some stops and got in transition.”
Forget all that talk about slow starts and forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.
He blew that away with a 20-point, 10-rebound effort that started with six early points.
He got plenty of help from Durham (16 points, two three-pointers), Armaan Franklin (11 points, three three-pointers) and Rob Phinisee (10-points, six assists).
IU’s early emphasis was simple — get Jackson-Davis the ball. The result — two dunks and a layup in just over three minutes. Two of those baskets came from Phinisee passes.
That spark was offset by four turnovers that gave Minnesota (13-9, 6-9) five points and a 12-11 lead after seven minutes.
Consecutive Franklin three-pointers pushed IU ahead 17-14.
The Hoosiers’ offense was clicking. Attacking the basket was leading to all kinds of good things.
Turnovers were the only thing messing that up.
Minnesota took advantage of eight Hoosier turnovers for an 11-0 edge on points off turnovers for a 37-35 halftime lead.
Jackson-Davis kept the Hoosiers close to start the second half. Then Durham hit a three-pointer. Hunter followed with two more. That 9-0 run pushed IU ahead 52-46 against a team that was winless on the road.
Then came more turnovers, five of them in the first nine minutes of the second half, to ignite a mini Minnesota surge. It went ahead 55-53.
The Hoosier response — get the ball to Jackson-Davis, who muscled in a tying basket as the clock ticked under eight minutes.
The game-deciding run was on.
Three-pointers from Durham and Franklin in 12 seconds restored IU’s six-point lead. Two minutes later, off a Jackson-Davis basket, the Hoosiers led 65-57.
They continued the pressure, upping the lead to 10, then 12 then 14.
Minnesota cut that lead in half, but got no closer. It scored 25 points off of 17 Indiana turnovers, which gave Miller a final coaching point as the Hoosiers begin preparations for Saturday’s game against Michigan State.
“Our biggest things is turnovers,” he said. “We’re turning it over way too much.”