BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WDRB) — From November through March, every player on Archie Miller’s Indiana University basketball team is required to report for weight room work at least twice a week.
Some guys do the minimum.
Joey Brunk is not one of those guys. Clif Marshall, the team’s director of athletic performance, said the only reason Brunk will not report for extra conditioning is if the Hoosiers have a game that day.
Brunk loves the weight room more than most college kids love social media.
If the Hoosiers aren’t playing, Brunk is working.
If the Hoosiers are playing, Brunk is working.
“He’s an energy giver,” IU freshman Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “He gives everyone energy … just basically how hard he works on and off the court.”
Indiana has guys who are faster, stronger, taller and more talented than Brunk. Nobody expected Butler to tank after Brunk transferred from the Bulldogs to Indiana last spring. Nobody expects Brunk to play in the NBA.
But 19 games into this season it’s reasonable to wonder if Brunk’s blue-collar orneriness is spreading through the locker room of this IU team, the one that improved to 15-4 Thursday night when the Hoosiers held off Michigan State, 67-63, at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.
Brunk is an Indiana kid who wanted to play basketball at Indiana. That is a key part of Miller's blueprint for this program.
He's done as much to set a tone for the program as anybody Miller has recruited. Scoring double figures in six of Indiana's last eight games has only made more people pay attention.
On a night when the Hoosiers gave back every bit of a 15-point lead, gave up too many three-point field goals and missed nine free throws, IU did enough of the blue collar things that must be done to defeat Tom Izzo’s No. 11 Michigan State basketball team.
“That was a big step for us tonight to pull that one out,” Miller said.
And on Indiana, who is more blue collar than Joey Brunk?
Brunk led Indiana with 14 points. He grabbed six rebounds. He held his ground against Xavier Tillman on the block. Brunk was directly in the middle of everything. He scored early, four of IU’s first six points. He also scored late. Credit Brunk with setting a tone — as well as with finishing the job.
There might have been two bigger baskets than the two Brunk made in the final 3 minutes and 10 seconds against Tom Izzo’s team. Al Durham certainly contributed two king-sized threes -- one at the end of the first half, the other to break a tie at 60 with less than two minutes to play.
Brunk is a 6-foot-10 frontcourt player who is not interested in playing point guard. He appreciates his size. He scored with a left-handed hook to push the Hoosiers ahead 60-58. Then he scored again with about a minute to play, scrambling after a missed shot by Rob Phinisee for another basket near the rim that pushed Indiana ahead 65-62.
“As big a play as you’re going to make,” Miller said. "It's not measureable what Joe has meant to us ... there's no fake work ethic. I mean he's at it every day.
"He's improved -- for a first-year player in our system, learning what's going on with new players -- he's improved as much as any player I've been around from month-to-month."
The Hoosiers survived because Michigan State’s two best players — Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman — failed to deliver on a lob in the final five seconds. Jackson-Davis switched onto Winston and got his hands on Winston's pass. Tillman still had a chance to grab the ball and score. He missed.
Two free throws by Jerome Hunter sealed Indiana's third victory against a Top 25 team this season.
The win improved Indiana to 5-3 in the Big Ten, part of a five-way tie for third place, a game behind Michigan State and Illinois, who are 6-2.
A year ago at this point in the schedule Indiana was in free fall, despite the presence of Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan, two guys who have played in the NBA this season.
On Jan. 22, 2019 the Hoosiers lost at Northwestern. That was the fifth consecutive Big Ten defeat, a streak that stretched to seven after they lost a home game to Michigan and a road game to Rutgers.
They somehow toppled Michigan State in East Lansing — and promptly lost five more.
No wonder the Hoosiers missed the NCAA Tournament.
The league is considered more challenging this season. Every team but Northwestern and Nebraska remains in the early discussion for an NCAA Tournament spot.
Even good teams are at risk for 12 out of 13 game tumbles. Ask Michigan, which has lost four of five in the league. Or Ohio State, which stumbled at home Thursday night to Minnesota and slipped to 2-6 in league.
With Maryland visiting Bloomington Sunday and trips to Penn State and Ohio State booked next week, Indiana would have been at greater risk of a slide after giving up that 15-point lead against the Spartans.
“I do think our guys who were here last year understand how hard it is to win,” Miller said. “You can’t take it for granted.”
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