Hoosiers Bounce Back In Win Over Tennessee Tech
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Josh Newkirk attacked.
Tennessee Tech conceded.
Freddie McSwain Jr. produced.
The Golden Eagles faded.
Indiana's restore-the-momentum 87-59 victory Thursday night was a showcase for offensive balance, defensive persistency and, yes, heavy doses of Newkirk and McSwain.
Newkirk did it as a starting guard, McSwain as an off-the-bench forward. Both were too much for Tennessee Tech (8-5).
The result, a much-needed comeback performance after Monday's Fort Wayne disappointment.
"We had to respond," Newkirk said. "We had to get back and fix some things. It was important to bounce back and get our momentum going.
"We had a different approach. We played hard. We stuck to our defensive schemes and moved the ball well on offense."
Credit a series of intense practices.
"It's been a tough couple of days," coach Archie Miller said. "Not just for the players, but the entire program.
"We went back to work and really challenged our guys to get off the mat. Competition is everything. We really competed the last couple of days in practice and it showed. We were a harder playing team, a smarter team."
They also were a more battle tested team thanks to Miller's feisty approach likely to last the rest of the season to ensure there won't be any Fort Wayne repeats.
"I think I'm going to have to be a raving lunatic regardless of whether we win by 30 or lose by 30," he said. "It's got to be the same. There's a lack of responsibility of understanding how every game is important. I'll probably have a lot of headaches in the next couple of months."
Beyond that, "It's challenging them," Miller said. "Every guy needed challenged. It's not easy to be negative, but the reality is what happened on Monday is unacceptable. It's an understanding that when you practice, it's competitive. You have to earn your minutes."
No Hoosier responded better than Newkirk.
In his previous two games, Newkirk had totaled eight points, four assists and three turnovers.
He was capable of more, and on Thursday night, he delivered it with a season-high 20 points, six assists and four rebounds in 24 efficient minutes.
"I let the game come to me," he said. "My teammates did a good job of finding me. I just knocked down shots."
Added Miller: "Josh had a hard couple of practices. It was forcing him to compete. Forcing him to get out of not being able to lead us out there more. He was very good. When we have decent guard play, we're a lot better."
Then there was McSwain, a physical forward back on track.
Since just missing a double-double against Eastern Michigan (10 points, nine rebounds) a month earlier, McSwain had been a no show for six straight games. During that stretch, he scored just four points and grabbed only nine rebounds.
Against Tennessee Tech, he was a beast with a career-high-tying 10 points and six rebounds in 15 minutes.
"Everyone wants an opportunity," Miller said. "There's productivity and getting the job done every day. Attitude is everything. Freddy, the last few days in practice, did a nice job. He got off to a rocky start, but he kept with it.
"When he plays per minute he's probably one of the best rebounders in the country. He showed that."
On Thursday night, the Hoosiers (7-6) played with fire and focus.
The Golden Eagles, even with guard Aleksa Jugovic, who calls himself "Serbian Sugar" for his sweet shot and nice personality, never had a chance.
IU took a 38-26 halftime lead thanks to an 11-2 half-ending run and built it into a blowout.
One big reason – they had an 18-4 edge in points off turnovers.
Another reason – offensive balance. IU had 11 players score. It also had just 10 turnovers, eight fewer than it had against Fort Wayne. The Hoosiers also blocked 10 shots and had a season-high 21 fast-break points.
Mostly though, it was Miller pushing the veterans to play and lead like veterans.
"Your best players at the end of the day have to be your oldest players. That's the guys who get it done in the tough moments, the guys that require the other guys on the team to follow their lead.
There's got to be much more of sort of like an alpha dog approach to the upperclassmen. They just can't let that happen on Monday. And it's almost perplexing the approach (against Fort Wayne) wouldn't have been different from the upperclassmen."
It was different against Tennessee Tech. The goal is to have it different against Youngstown State on Dec. 29 in the final non-conference game and then Big Ten play.
"We've got to keep pushing through," Miller said. "This is an important time to recover and how we have to practice leading into the Big Ten."