BOZICH | Indiana's identity emerges in OT win over Notre Dame: T - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Indiana's identity emerges in OT win over Notre Dame: Toughness

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Juwan Morgan scored 34 points to lead Indiana past Notre Dame in overtime. (Jamie Owens photo) Juwan Morgan scored 34 points to lead Indiana past Notre Dame in overtime. (Jamie Owens photo)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WDRB) — I’m ecstatic there is a Draft Function for stories posted to the web site. This is the opening of the story I was prepared to file when Indiana trailed Notre Dame by 13 points three minutes into the second half Saturday:

This was the last call for Archie Miller’s first Indiana basketball team: Last chance to win a non-conference game that would deliver any juice on NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday.

Clang. Thud. Plop.

The offensive issues the Hoosiers showed a week ago while losing at Louisville continued as Indiana lost to Notre Dame (fill in the score) in the second game of the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Don’t tell Miller that was the opening to my story. Or Robert Johnson. Or Zach McRoberts.

Certainly do not inform Juwan Morgan, not after Indiana outlasted and out-toughed Notre Dame, 80-77, in overtime, with Morgan stuffing the box score (34 points, 11 rebounds, a block) like a first-round draft pick.

“We’ve been in the pressure cooker for about four weeks,” Miller said. “We’re continuing to carve our identity out.

“We’re not anywhere near where we have to be but I do think, as we’ve watched ourselves improve, we have some things we can hang our hat on right now.

“We’re playing a lot harder for a lot longer stretches and understand what we’re doing a lot better.”

Behind for nearly 34 minutes and never ahead by more than two points until the final seconds, the Hoosiers somehow beat a Notre Dame squad ranked 18th in the nation, a team that won the Maui Invitational and a team led by Bonzie Colson, the Atlantic Coast Conference pre-season player of the year. The Hoosiers moved from 83rd to 74th in Ken Pomeroy's computer rankings, their best number since the pre-season.

“They’re just a tough group, man,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “They keep coming at your paint. They keep coming at your paint.

“The guards are driving. The big guys are banging around. I like them.”

If you were looking for a snapshot of what a Miller-team will look like once he gets the Hoosiers rolling, the second half should work.

Unyielding defense. Persistent offense. Enough shots from distance to pull opposing defenders out of the paint. Add fearlessness to the description, too.

Morgan has been Indiana’s best player for the last month but he elevated his dominance to a Victor Oladipo or D.J. White level against the Irish.

His 34 points (a career high) look more impressive when you note that he made 13 baskets on 17 shot attempts. Miller was not getting much from his starting center De’Ron Davis, who scored his only basket in the final minute of overtime.

Miller went small, isolating Morgan near the basket and instructed his guys to let him go to work. Morgan was ready for Colson or anybody else Brey used to defend him.

He delivered — and delivered when the Hoosiers needed him, scoring in the post with 13.1 seconds remaining to tie the game at 65, forcing overtime. Credit Morgan with Indiana's final 12 points in regulation, including eight points in the final 1:49.

Morgan was not finished. He scored eight of IU’s 15 points in overtime, getting the first basket, as well as the final two.

He scored over Notre Dame guard Matt Ferrell with 11.6 seconds to play to slash Notre Dame’s lead to 77-76. Given the chance to tie the game with a free throw, Morgan missed.

This is where Morgan needed to share the Player of the Game recognition with McRoberts, a junior forward.

The missed free throw bounded high off the left side the rim. McRoberts snatched it away from Colson, steadied himself in the lane and waited as Morgan flashed past him from the foul line to the right side of the rim.

What followed was soft shovel pass that Morgan turned into a thunderous flush to put IU ahead, 78-77. Farrell missed a jumper. Devonte Green made two free throws for IU.

It was officially time for me to junk my early story.

“(Morgan) beat us up,” Brey said. “He was fabulous.”

“I think today was the first time I actually got a play to just drive it,” Morgan said. “But other than that, I was just getting on the offensive glass and just posting in the middle of the floor in random possessions.”

Make a note that after not making a shot against Louisville a week ago, IU guard Robert Johnson scored 20 points and hit half of his 10 shots from distance. And McRoberts, a walk-on, grabbed seven of his nine rebounds on the offensive glass. He is merely 6 feet 6. There is no reason for McRoberts to always be around the ball. But he is. 

“Winner,” Miller said. “He’s got a great motor, if you watch him in games and practice, it’s the same.

“He pursues balls. He’ll come from all over the place, whether he can get a hand on it or not. Today he went up and got a couple, above the rim even … it’s an instinct a lot of guys don’t have.”

It is time to wonder if a victory over Notre Dame will change the dynamic for this Indiana team the way it did two years ago, when the Hoosiers used a come-from-behind win over the Irish to ignite a Big Ten regular-season title.

Put Miller’s team 6-5. The Hoosiers went 1-3 in their signature non-league games against Seton Hall, Duke, Louisville and Notre Dame. (More stuff I had to rewrite after the Indiana rally.)

In a year of sagging strength for the Big Ten, the Hoosiers needed this game to have a non-league credential of any quality when post-season discussion rages in March.

Played Seton Hall tough for a half. Lost by 16. Led Duke into the final five minutes. Lost by 10. Led Louisville at halftime. Lost by nine.

Trailed Notre Dame by 8 with 2:01 to play — and won.

“I just think we never went away,” Johnson said. “Once we made mistakes, I don’t think we consecutively made the same ones.

“It still wasn’t a clean game. You can always get better. But I think the encouraging thing was we never went away as far as our defense.”

There is plenty of time for a macro look at this team. The micro look against the Irish was that Indiana played winning defense, overcame another miserable half of shooting (3 for 12 from distance in the first half) and did not backpedal after falling behind by as many as 14 points.

Three consecutive home games await the Hoosiers, starting with a visit by Fort Wayne to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall Monday night. The mighty Mastodons toppled Indiana by three points in overtime last season, the first indicator IU would not make the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Fort Wayne has lost five of its first 12 this season, including their trip to Kentucky last month.

“Last year obviously it wasn’t a good feeling,” Johnson said. “You never really forget what it feels like to feel like that. So we’ll definitely be prepared.”

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