BOZICH | Indiana makes its Top 25 case by blasting Marquette
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Indiana finished with an overall winning record as well as tied for sixth place in the Big Ten last season — and the Hoosiers were (justifiably) shut out of the NIT and NCAA Tournaments.
There were a million reasons but this reason was at the top of the list:
The Hoosiers did not deliver any non-conference wins against teams that made the NCAA Tournament.
Indiana played a likely 2019 NCAA Tournament team at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall Wednesday night — No. 24 Marquette, led by Markus Howard, one of the most prolific guards in the nation.
And it was Archie Miller's team that earned a credential that should resonate with the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee by overwhelming Marquette, 96-73. The win bumped the Hoosiers from No. 24 to No. 18 in Ken Pomeroy's national power rankings.
"I was just really proud of the approach, the intensity level to start the game," coach Archie Miller said. "Then moving through the game, continuing to play through different lineups with foul trouble. Nobody blinked."
Five Indiana players scored 10 or more points, led by former New Albany Mr. Basketball Romeo Langford, who punished Marquette with 22 points, five rebounds and a pair of assists while playing 35 minutes.
"I thought the atmosphere was crazy, especially for my first experience on a ranked opponent," Langford said. "I felt like that helped us a lot in our runs and in the beginning of the game to make a big run on Marquette."
The Hoosiers were without one starter (forward Zach McRoberts, back issues) as well as three subs (guard Devonte Green, thigh; forward Jerome Hunter, leg and forward Race Thompson, concussion).
Indiana started as if they were determined to play themselves directly into the Top 25 before midnight. The Hoosiers spurted to a 19-4 lead. Marquette had four turnovers before the Golden Eagles had three field goals.
Robert Phinisee, Indiana's freshman point guard, defended Howard, one of the best point guards in the Big East, as if Phinisee was the upperclassman. Phinisee finished with a dozen points as well as eight assists -- as many as the entire Marquette team. Howard had 18 points but had four turnovers and missed four of five shots from distance.
Not bad for a guy ranked No. 136 nationally by Scout.com, the fourth highest ranking of Miller's five player freshman class.
"Really, I just tried to limit him and his shots," Phinisee said. "I just, everybody played pretty good team defense, so that really helped me."
"He's a stud," Miller said. "I mean, he's a stud. There's not much to say. I mean, 26 minutes, 12 points, 8 assists, 1 turnover, and he guarded arguably maybe the Player of the Year in the Big East for most of the game and held his own ... He's everything that we knew when we recruited him."
After that Marquette never got closer than seven. In the second half, Indiana led by at least 13 and by as many as 28. It was IU's largest win against a ranked opponent in six seasons. The Golden Eagles missed 18 of 23 shots from distance and turned the ball over on nearly 20 percent of their possessions. The defense was unyielding.
"Yeah, I mean, without question," Miller said. "I mean, they have an identity. I think if you watched us play on film and you just kind of know what's going on, you say to those guys, yeah, they're giving great effort.
"When you add in the mix that there are new guys in there, the older guys have really been able to hold down the rules and the talk and the communication. I think that's the vital part of growing as a program."
Indiana showed the balance that Miller prefers between attacking the rim and scoring from distance. They made their threes (9 of 20), they made their twos (63.6 percent field goal percentage) and they made their free throws (17 of 23). It was IU's best shooting performance in Miller's 34 games as head coach.
Last season Indiana lost non-league home games to Indiana State and Fort Wayne as well as Duke. This team isn't that team.
Two newcomers ignited Indiana’s offense. One was a guy that everybody was talking about last spring — Langford. The other was a guy that only basketball insiders were even whispering about last spring — Evan Fitzner, a transfer from Saint Mary’s.
Langford treated Marquette as if he was playing against Jeffersonville or Floyd Central. What Langford does best is attack the rim. Attack. And attack. He is unafraid of contact. He understands how to use the glass. He made 7 of his 10 two-point attempts as well as one shot from distance.
"He's ready to play when the lights were on," Miller said.
Fitzner, a senior, arrived as an alleged three-point specialist -- even as a 6-foot-10 forward. He can do that. But Fitzner also showed a jump hook and a mid-range game. He had 16 points, making all four shots from distance.
"Yeah, it feels good when you've got the crowd behind you, so credit to them, they were all excited," Fitzner said. "So guys were finding me too, so it's really just my teammates finding me and knocking down the open shot."
"He's a terrific offensive player," Miller said. "Without question, fits our style. He's a confident guy."
(It was quite a week for the Fitzner family. Evan’s younger sister, Emily, a Top 50 volleyball recruit from San Diego, signed with Indiana this week.)
Next for the Hoosiers is a Sunday trip to Fayetteville to play the first game in a two-season series with Arkansas. The Razorbacks have split their first two games, losing to Texas in overtime in their season opener before defeating UC-Davis Tuesday night.
Miller said that he did not expect the four injured players to be available for the rest of this month.
"It's a positive for the guys that are available," Miller said.
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