Coming off of the loss to Eastern Washington and rough looking wins against Lamar and UNCG, Indiana desperately needed a great performance last night against Pittsburgh in the B1G / ACC Challenge - and they got just that. Indiana dominated almost every aspect of the game from start to finish beating the Panthers 81-69 (and this was much closer than the game seemed). It wasn't the normal cast of characters leading this Hoosier team either. Kevin Yogi Ferrell and Hanner Perea were saddled with foul trouble all night long and James Blackmon Jr. had a pretty off night for him going 5-14 shooting for 13 points. The lack of production from these players though was more than compensated for with the play of guys like Emmitt Holt, Robert Johnson, and Collin Hartman. They made the big plays and the little plays for Indiana to be successful. Eleven players saw action in this one and nine of them scored. What were we able to learn about this Hoosier team last night?
Emmitt Holt is a player - Indiana hasn't had anyone to rely on in the paint all season. It was a huge topic of conversation all offseason and continued through the first 6 games of this young campaign. Last night - Hoosier Nation may have been introduced to its big man this season - Emmitt Holt, a 6'7" freshman who signed at the absolute last minute before school started. He was first known for his role in a Halloween night accident that left teammate Devin Davis in the hospital in serious condition. After this performance last night, he is now known as Indiana's presence down low. With Hanner Perea saddled with foul trouble and largely ineffective again for most of his minutes, Holt stepped in and contributed 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks. He was 6-6 from the field and committed no turnovers which may be the most important stat for a young freshman still learning what it is like to play at this level and speed. The scary part for opposing teams is he hadn't even played that many minutes coming in (17 to be exact versus the 19 he played last night). He is still learning and should only improve from here. Will he put up 15 points every night? Not a chance - but Indiana doesn't need 15 points from him. They just need a consistent presence in the paint - both offensively and defensively. For at least one night against a high major team - he looked like exactly that.
Indiana's season is not dead after all - After the very poor play against teams like Lamar, Eastern Washington, and UNCG - many, including myself, wondered whether this season was already doomed just 6 games in. With the majority of the B1G Conference playing good basketball thus far, Indiana at worst needs to get to 10 non-conference wins to have any hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament. After the loss to EWU, that seemed pretty far out of reach given the opponents left on the schedule. After last night's demolition of Pittsburgh, there is hope that the Hoosiers can rally and get to 10 or 11 wins going into the conference season. Even so, there are question marks about this Pittsburgh team. They lost to Hawaii earlier this season - which is a major red flag. However, the win will look good on the resume regardless and we'll see how Indiana fares in a week against another ACC opponent - highly ranked Louisville. That game will be a true measuring stick of where this Indiana team may be headed this season.
Robert Johnson proved he can play the point - Coming into the year we wondered who would be the most effective player to backup Yogi Ferrell at point guard. Would it be Blackmon, Johnson, or a combination of other players? With Yogi in foul trouble most of the night, it was Robert Johnson who was given the reigns and he showed why he is the point man of the future with a great performance of 6 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds, and only 2 turnovers. He was known during high school and AAU ball to have great leadership ability and that really showed last night. He also had one of the best quotes in the post game presser saying "When you are presented with adversity, you either get better or you get worse and we decided we were going to get better." Indiana fans now will not have to worry when Yogi heads out of the game for a breather or in foul trouble. While Johnson is still a freshman and prone to make mistakes this season - he has now proven he can be relied on in big moments and that is a major step forward for this team as a whole.
"When you are presented with adversity, you either get better or you get worse and we decided we were going to get better." - Robert Johnson
Stanford Robinson may be out of the rotation - Robinson played only 5 minutes last night and there was no injury reported or foul trouble. He has been known as one of the best defensive players on this roster, and defense is an area that has been seriously lacking for the Hoosiers even in tonight's game where they gave up 69 points to an awful shooting Pittsburgh team. Robinson did appear lackadaisical at times during his five minutes of play. There was one instance in the first half where he jogged down the court when a sprint could have stopped an easy layup opportunity. That type of effort isn't going to be tolerated by this coaching staff and there are plenty of other options at guard if Robinson isn't going to give full effort. We'll see over the next couple of weeks if he has received that message and responds in a positive way.
The Hoosiers will now get a few days off before returning to play against an awful Savannah State team Saturday night who is ranked #307 in KenPom as of the writing of this article. They were down 30-1 to Louisville at one point earlier this season. That will be another good chance to watch some players like Emmitt Holt try to continue to cement their status on this team. If Holt plays like he did last night - look out for Indiana. All they have been missing is someone in the paint - and they may have found him in this one.