A Great Day In B-Town
Not that there are really any bad days in Bloomington, but Saturday December 22nd, 2018 was extra special. In fact, I personally would classify it as a great day. The two hour drive north, up highway 37, was made in unseasonably warm temperatures and bright Winter sunshine. Arriving in B-Town late morning allowed me to finish up a little Christmas shopping, and grab lunch at Mother Bear’s Pizza before heading over to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (SSAH) to watch the Indiana Hoosiers take on the Jacksonville Dolphins.
As one could imagine, both the stores and the restaurants were filled with crimson clad Hoosier fans doing pretty much the same thing I was doing. Which truth be told, was nothing more than enjoying the weather and killing time before the real reason I was in town. Everyone I encountered seemed to be in as good a mood as I was. Of course, when you have Christmas literally right around the corner, a warm, sunshiny, December day, and the Hoosiers playing at home, what is there not to be in a good mood about?
Making my way to the Press Room, and then up to Press Row, I was greeted with smiles and “good afternoons” from just about everyone I passed. I settled in feeling good, but not really sure what to expect from the Hoosiers that evening. Would they continue their recent trend of slow starts? Would they struggle without starting point guard Robert Phinisee? Would they be looking ahead to the holidays and the break that comes with them?
After getting set up I ventured across the floor and took a moment at long time IU beat writer Terry Hutchens place in Press Row. I’ve followed and read Terry’s coverage of IU basketball for a large portion of my life. He was also one of the first to greet me warmly when I became a credentialed member of the media. Standing there for that moment I knew that things would never be the same due to his passing. Shortly before the tipoff all of SSAH stood, remembered, and honored Terry Hutchens with a moment of silence.
It was game time. Although the Hoosiers didn’t come racing out of the gate, it didn’t take them long to hit stride and methodically pull away from the Dolphins. At the center of the Hoosiers making it a one sided affair was senior captain, Juwan Morgan. Over the course of the game Morgan showed that you can truly dominate a game in ways other than just the scoring column. He would go on to finish with only the 2nd triple-double in Indiana Basketball history. His final stat line would read as such: 10 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals. He was a perfect 5-5 from the field. Aside from his lone turnover, he played a perfect game. His triple-double numbers add up to 30, he played 30 minutes, and the Hoosiers won by 30 (94-64).
He wasn’t alone in playing well though. In fact, the Hoosiers got quality contributions from everyone who saw action. Not only did all five starters scored in double figures, led by Aljami Durham’s 18 points, but they also had two reserves flirt with double figures. Freshman Damezi Anderson finished with 9pts. and Jake Forrester added 7pts. It was the most complete game on both ends of the floor from start to finish that the Hoosiers have played since the Marquette game.
They finish the 2018 portion of the season 11-2, and if a point blank put-back had fallen, would be sitting at 12-1 heading into 2019 and the remainder of the Big10 schedule. Considering their youth, and the injuries they continue to deal with, that’s pretty damned good. Speaking of injuries, that’s one area where the Christmas break will definitely help the Hoosiers. When I looked at our “walking wounded” yesterday it dawned on me that the four sitting and watching would be the start of a pretty decent team in their own right. If the layoff allows Robert Phinisee, Race Thompson, and Zach McRoberts to get healthy and on the court, Coach Archie Miller will have plenty of options at his disposal.
Some will say that yesterday’s dismantling of Jacksonville was against inferior competition. True. But myself, having grown up on the Bob Knight led Hoosier teams, still believe that you play against yourself as much as you do against an opponent. The Hoosiers took a big step in the right direction yesterday in doing what they do best on both ends of the floor. They shared the ball as well as they have all year. As evidenced by their 21 assists on 35 made field goals. They shot 72% from the field in the 2nd half and 64.8% for the game. They took care of the ball by only having 12 turnovers, several of which came late. They start no one taller than Morgan at 6’7”, yet they had 7 blocked shots. They forced 13 turnovers and they held the Dolphins to 39.3% from the field.
With a lot of new faces, it can take some time for familiarity to take place. But slowly but surely you can see the comfort level of playing with each other slowly start to emerge. The past two games have really shown that with Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford. Morgan to a slashing Langford for a dunk, quickly followed by a Langford to Morgan pass on the next possession for a basket is proof of that. And it’s not just those two either. On two separate occasions against Jacksonville all five guys touched the ball with very minimal dribbling and not only had the Dolphin defense scrambling, but they also ended up with a shot that the shooter had time to line up the seams on. That is comfort and trust in each other.
I left Bloomington feeling extremely good about what the Hoosiers have accomplished thus far, especially considering the adversity (injuries) they’ve dealt with. Yes, they have to get better. But the real beauty in that is that they are 11-2 and I personally don’t believe they have scratched the surface of how good they can be. They’re finally showing that they are heading in that direction, and while doing so, they have shown a toughness to not only stay in games when they aren’t playing well, but to also win them. Something they’ll need going forward in 2019. There are NO easy games in the Big10 this season…as in NONE! The Big10 is as tough from top to bottom as it has been in quite some time.
As we head into the Christmas break we as fans should feel good about the first half of the season, as well as the direction we seem to be heading. We should take a deep breath, relax a little bit because the they need us at full strength and focused on the task at hand starting on January 3rd in SSAH against Illinois. But more importantly, we should not only enjoy, but also cherish, the time with our loved ones. Don’t take it for granted, because you honestly don’t know when you won’t have another chance.
**Terry Hutchens. A great writer, and an even better person. He was taken from his family, his friends, his colleagues, and the sports world, way to soon. I’m a better person from only having met him twice, and from reading his way with words for years. That is how you impact lives. That’s how Terry Hutchens impacted lives. He is already missed, and will be missed and remembered for years and years to come. Condolences to his family from all of us here at Hoosiers-United.