Hoosiers Win Third Straight, Blowout Northwestern In Bloomington
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Indiana is back in Big Ten business.
Senior guard Robert Johnson saw to that.
A suddenly stifling defense did as well.
And then there was the second-half resurrection -- 60.9 percent shooting -- from early offensive struggles.
The Hoosiers (11-7) buried Northwestern with a 25-2 second-half run en route to a 66-46 victory. They have won three straight and five of six. At 4-2, they are tied for third in the conference standings behind unbeaten Purdue and Ohio State.
Next up -- a Friday night trip to former No. 1 Michigan State. The Spartans have lost two of their last three games.
IU has this week to prepare for that, and to build off recent success.
Coach Archie Miller is doing his part, and it goes well beyond offensive and defensive strategy.
It starts with superstition and wearing the same suit.
"If we win, I don't change," he said.
And then, "When I first got here (from Dayton), I stopped. I'm back."
The defense certainly is.
IU held Northwestern to just 26.8 percent from the field, its second best since the 1996-97 season, the first year such statistics were kept. The 46 points allowed were the third fewest in a Big Ten game since the 1996-97 season.
IU forced 17 Wildcats turnovers against eight assists. That was impressive given Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh was coming off a 16-assist, zero-turnover performance in a win over Minnesota.
He had two assists and three turnovers against IU.
"We're locked in practice," guard Josh Newkirk said. "It's all five guys talking, staying connected and putting a better effort. Finishing off with a rebound.
"It's fun playing defense, getting turnovers. It leads to points. It makes the offensive end that much easier."
Added Johnson: "It was our best (defensive) game. We can build on that. If we continue to tighten things up of the offensive end, we'll be in a good spot."
Losing center DeRon Davis for the season with a tore Achilles tendon hasn't hurt Indiana's defense. It took Northwestern (11-8, 2-4) nearly 38 minutes to reach 40 points.
"We're a lot quicker," Miller said about the defensive improvement. "We're more mobile with the frontcourt. As DeRon goes down, we get faster. We're keeping the ball out of the post and, in general, doing a good job with on-the-ball pressure.
"We've got to keep working on it. As we play bigger teams, the firepower in this league is tough. If we can keep playing hard and intelligent, we can be tough to deal with."
IU squeezed the life out of Northwestern's first-half offense, and that was with Juwan Morgan and Zach McRoberts playing just two minutes each because of foul trouble. The Wildcats shot just 24.0 percent and committed 11 turnovers against four assists in the opening 20 minutes.
If the Hoosiers had shot better than 30 percent, they might have broken the game open by halftime.
Instead, it was a 24-18 lead, and anyone's game.
And then, quicker than you can say IU guard play rocks -- it wasn't.
Johnson had a game-high 17 points with five three-point baskets. That ties him with James Blackmon for fourth on IU's career three-point basket list with 205.
Newkirk added 12 points to follow up the 16 points he had against Penn State.
"We encourage them to be aggressive," Miller said of the improved guard play. "When you get in league play, you're only as good as your guards.
"When you look at our backcourt, Josh had the best two-game stretch of the season. Rob is Rob. Devonte (Green) had a great game against Penn State. Al (Durham) was good. When you have solid play at guard, you have an easier time."
Miller wants at least 12 guard rebounds a game.
On Sunday, it was 19.
"That helps," he said.
Northwestern brought a measure of Hoosier tradition with former IU All-America A.J. Guyton, who is the Wildcats director of player development. He was acknowledged before the game.
But Guyton's high-scoring nature (he finished with 2,100 career points) didn't rub off on either team early.
They combined to miss eight shots (including a dunk) and commit four turnovers in nearly four minutes before Northwestern forward Aaron Falzon hit a three-pointer for the game's first points. Seconds later, Newkirk hit his own three-pointer.
Finally, Indiana surged ahead 13-3.
The Wildcats went on an 8-0 run to close within two points. Collin Hartman and Johnson three-pointers helped Indiana take that 24-19 halftime lead.
Morgan and McRoberts were back for the second half, but it was a pair of Johnson three-pointers and strong offensive execution that helped the Hoosiers push ahead by 20 points with 11:31 left.
Northwestern was finished.
Now it's on to Michigan State.
"We'll try to build each day this week," Johnson said. "We'll be confident when we head there."