INDIANAPOLIS – Before Indiana played Butler, guard Armaan Franklin said that the key to the game was matching the Bulldogs' physicality. Well, it's one thing to say that's what needs to happen. It's another to actually embrace the physicality of the game and get after the ball in a disruptive way.
Indiana did not do the latter in the first half against the Bulldogs at the Crossroads Classic this afternoon, but after a stern talking-to from coach Archie Miller at halftime, the game completely changed in the second half. IU scored 24 of the first 32 points in the second half, turning a five-point deficit into an 11-point lead. All it took was 13 minutes of guarding, rebounding and shooting at the level the Hoosiers know they are capable of. They went on to win 68-60, earning their third victory this season against a major-conference opponent, albeit one that was missing its leading scorer, Aaron Thompson, who had a sprained knee.
For the second straight game, Franklin set the pace for the Hoosiers offensively. As Indiana struggled to get the ball inside in the first half, Franklin kept his team in the game with four 3-pointers. He finished with five on seven attempts and set a new career-high for points for the second consecutive game, scoring 20 for the first time as a Hoosier. He's playing at a high level right now and his shooting could help Indiana win some games when it struggles in other areas.
"The ball going in the basket makes things easy," Miller said. "Sometimes good offense beats good defense, and I think Armaan has given us an outside weapon here in the last few games clearly that's opened up some things inside. You've got to worry about him.
"I think we're going to be a better shooting team consistently as we continue to embrace sharing the ball, and I think you saw some guys make some really great passes in transition, and I think we had some great drives today where we were unselfish and had the ability to deliver a pass on time where we got rhythm shots."
Getting the ball in rhythm is seemingly the key for Indiana. The Hoosiers move the ball well and that creates open shots. It also helps when Indiana gets a better interior presence than it did in the first half. Trayce Jackson-Davis had 10 points in the opening half, but took only four shots as he found it difficult to get post position with no other help inside. In the second half that changed as Race Thompson bounced back from a pretty bad opening 20 minutes to score 10 points and grab five rebounds after halftime, creating room for Jackson-Davis to operate. When the sophomore has any room at all, he's nearly unstoppable and he finished with 21 points on 7-for-9 shooting and added eight rebounds and five blocks. Thompson as Indiana's second punishing big is huge for this team.
"It was really important that Race Thompson really gave us an unbelievable boost in the second half," Miller said. "I thought Trayce was ready to play. We missed him a bunch in this game in the first half, and I thought in the second half he commanded more attention.
"We were better inside in the second half, which helped us change this game. But just in general our group was disappointed at halftime. We knew how to answer the bell. There wasn't a whole lot of hooting and hollering and what not. It is what it is. We were getting outworked."
That changed completely in the second half and it was encouraging to see Indiana be able to flip a switch that way, though concerning that a switch needed to be flipped at all. The offense was mostly good overall, with the Hoosiers shooting 53% and assisting on 19 of 25 made field goals. Still, 15 turnovers were too many and it wasn't good to see the Bulldogs out-rebound Indiana 35-30. Rebounding has continued to be a problem for the Hoosiers and will likely be so at least until Joey Brunk returns from his back injury. Indiana needs him to provide another big body besides Jackson-Davis and Thompson that can do some dirty work inside.
Overall, however, the signs in the past couple of games have been encouraging and the Hoosiers are going into the Big Ten conference schedule with some momentum. They're 5-2, they have wins over some decent teams and they're shooting the ball relatively well. At this point, the biggest unanswered questions are whether they have enough rebounding ability and depth to survive in such a deep league. We'll find out starting Wednesday.
"I'm happy with our team," Miller said. "We've just got to keep getting better. We have a coachable group. They're in it for the right reasons. We've worked hard. Haven't had Joe(y Brunk) all non-conference and guys have stepped up, and we're going to need more guys to continue to step up and develop.
"I count on all these guys as we keep going that we are going to need them. As you guys know, we play in the fiercest league in college basketball this year. It's going to start up very quickly, and the mental challenge it's going to take to get through it with no real time off is going to be something that we're going to have to be ready for."