Hoosiers Survive Penn State for Another Big Ten Win
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The Indiana bench ruled.
Let's start with that.
The Hoosiers produced plenty of talking points during Tuesday night's 74-70 victory over Penn State, and not just because Zach McRoberts had another difference-making scoreless game, but nothing was as decisive as IU's bench-point advantage.
It was 25-1.
The result was a season-first, five double-figure scorers, two coming off the bench.
"It can be anybody on any night," forward Juwan Morgan said. "It's being ready. It's seeing the game in your mind. It's the mental preparation. It goes to the work they put in every day."
Collin Hartman was a bench catalyst. The sore shoulder that sidelined him three days earlier against Minnesota was better, and he played like it with 10 points and five rebounds in 27 minutes.
Devonte Green was also a big part of the bench impact. He had 13 points, one assist and no turnovers in 21 minutes.
"Just play your heart out every play," Hartman said. "You don't take plays off.
"We've got guys ready to go. If you're not ready to go, someone else will sub in."
These Hoosiers (10-7 overall, 3-2 in the Big Ten) were ready for a second straight game. It was a solid follow-up to the Minnesota victory, and a major emphasis leading up to the game.
"It was the first time we've strung two straight 40-minute efforts," guard Robert Johnson said. "That's big for us."
Even bigger, coach Archie Miller said, was just winning.
"We really grinded one out. We found a way to make the plays to win. We had some fantastic guard play. We only turned it over nine times. We did the things you have to do to win a league game."
McRoberts once again personified that. He played 26 minutes and didn't take a shot. He also had six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
"He plays within himself," Johnson said. "He gives everything he has."
Just about every Hoosier followed his lead Tuesday night, which was exactly what Miller wanted to see.
"It's attack mode," he said. "This time of year, you want guys attacking. You want to give them the freedom to make plays.
"We're trying to get our guards to make plays. Our attitude is pretty good. With every injury, guys have had the opportunity to step up. They've been ready."
This time there was no freshman Justin Smith surprise, just more Morgan productivity.
Smith, so good at Minnesota with 20 points, was a foul-hindered non-factor against Penn State. He played just six minutes and totaled only two points.
Morgan, meanwhile, delivered his sixth double-double of the season, and second straight, with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
"Juwan's playing at an all-conference level," Miller said.
He had plenty of help, big given the continued absence of center DeRon Davis, out indefinitely with a lower leg injury.
Guard Josh Newkirk had 16 points, four assists and no turnovers in 30 minutes. He responded to not playing down the stretch at Minnesota (freshman Al Durham did). Johnson added 10 points.
"If you're going to turn the ball over, you can't play," Miller said. "Both Devonte and Josh emerged. If we get some consistency from our guards, we'll be hard to handle."
Penn State coach Patrick Chambers had elevated the talent to match his feisty approach. The Nittany Lions (12-6, 2-3) had five double-figure scorers, a double-double threat in forward Mike Watkins (10 points, 12 rebounds), a versatile playmaker in Tony Carr (28 points) and an emerging elite scorer in Lamar Stevens (20 points).
They kept Penn State in it until the end.
"Penn State has some tough personnel," Miller said. "Tony Carr is one of the best guards we've played."
Added Chambers: "We're talented, and we're a little bit older. We're competing, but we've got to learn how to finish."
Early on, Morgan continued to tap into the spirit that made Steve Alford a three-point shooting wonder. He hit his first two three-point attempts, and making him five of his last six, impressive for a guy who was 2-for-17 from three-point range in the first 15 games.
He and Newkirk helped the Hoosiers shoot their way to a 21-13 lead.
With Stevens continuing the hot shooting that enabled him to score 30 points in Penn State's last game, a 78-63 win over Northwestern, the Nittany Lions stayed within range.
In fact, they took a one-point lead late in the first half before IU regrouped for a 35-31 halftime advantage.
Early in the second half, the Hoosiers pushed ahead by 11 points. Penn State pushed back within three points, and then two.
A less focused IU team might have buckled.
This team, steeled by adversity and resiliency, held on.
That mattered against Penn State, and it could matter even more in the next few weeks, when the Hoosiers face the Big Ten's best in Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State.
"It's about finding a way to get the win," Miller said. "Guys were locked in to playing to win. We have a good mindset. We've got to keep growing."