BLOOMINGTON – Indiana coach Archie Miller wants more from his team at the end of games.
The Hoosiers will probably need it tonight against a Maryland team with NCAA Tournament aspirations that is desperate not to fall to 1-4 in conference play. Indiana has given up second-half leads in each of its three Big Ten games and while it came back to win in overtime against Penn State last week, that's not an encouraging trend.
On Sunday, Miller enumerated two specific ways the Hoosiers can be better in the final 6-8 minutes of games. First, Indiana needs to have a deeper bench. Players like Trayce Jackson-Davis, Race Thompson and Armaan Franklin need some rest to avoid being gassed at the ends of games and players like Jerome Hunter, Khristian Lander and Jordan Geronimo will need to play bigger minutes without the team falling off a cliff to make that possible. Miller acknowledged he'll probably need to do a better job of sticking with the freshmen through some growing pains, but they also need to grow up fast. Geronimo in particular is athletic enough to play big minutes right now, but he sometimes looks a little lost on the court and is relying almost entirely on instinct. If he can get better at recognizing where he needs to be, he can be a factor for the Hoosiers. Lander needs to find a way to hit some outside shots.
Miller's second solution for late-game fatigue is simpler: fight through it. As he pointed out, there are players across college basketball playing 30-35 minutes and they're able to survive late in games. He wants his players to be a little bit mentally tougher down the stretch of games and he's probably not wrong to ask for that. The Hoosiers' best players have a lot on their shoulders, but Jackson-Davis said he wants this team to be different. He can help get it there if he buckles down a little bit harder during what Magic Johnson would call "winning time."
The Hoosiers' opponent tonight might have some depth problems of its own. The Terrapins will be without stalwart defender and veteran presence Darryl Morsell, who suffered a facial fracture against Michigan in Maryland's most recent game. Morsell hasn't shot the ball well this season, but he's a calming voice on this team and it remains to be seen how the Terps will react without him on the court in crunch time.
Still, Maryland has plenty of talent on its roster and it plays mostly position-less basketball, which could cause some matchup problems for Indiana. The Terps' top six scorers are all between 6-foot-5 and 6-8 and the only player in the rotation who really breaks the mold height-wise is 7-2 sophomore center Chol Marial from South Sudan, who only plays 8-10 minutes per game. The Terrapins don't force a whole lot of turnovers, but they don't give the ball away either and they're a good 3-point shooting team. They wait for opposing teams to make the mistakes rather than attacking aggressively on defense and play a slightly slower offensive style. Indiana will need to be focused for 40 minutes to avoid a game-turning offensive cold spell and Jackson-Davis might need some against smaller players to avoid being drawn away from his position under the basket on defense.
Much as with the game against Penn State, this is the type of matchup Indiana almost has to win to make the NCAA Tournament. This early in the season, there's still some breathing room, but losing at home to a team that's 1-3 in the Big Ten is not the way to convince anyone you have legitimate postseason hopes. Maryland is down one of its better players and the Hoosiers have had four days to fix some of the problems that have cropped up late in games, like a drop-off in defensive intensity. A solid performance wire to wire would be encouraging tonight.