Indiana came in last night off of a huge home win against Ohio State on Saturday afternoon. They also came in after news broke early yesterday that starting center Hanner Mosquera-Perea would be out indefinitely with a knee injury. Perea has taken his hits from fans and those in the media so far this season, but he is the only Hoosier threat over 6'7" and that is a big deal. He has been mostly viewed as having a rough start to B1G play due to his foul trouble, but he was leading the team in rebounds per minute and second on the team in points per minute played after the Ohio State game. Those aren't numbers that are easy to replace and his height certainly can't be replaced. However, this finally would give fans a chance to see what Emmitt Holt could do in more extended minutes right? Well, Coach Crean had other ideas as he decided to start Collin Hartman instead of going with three freshmen in the lineup.
Penn State had other ideas as well as they really shut down the Hoosier "big men" in the first half. Hartman and Holt combined for 0 points, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists in 20 minutes played. While everyone was watching for the Hoosier big man situation to play out - a couple Hoosier guards decided to take the spotlight instead. Robert Johnson, who has been as consistent a performer as any this season started red hot and ended the half as the leading scorer with 12 points on 4-7 shooting. After Johnson's initial run, it was Stanford Robinson's turn. Many might not realize this, but coming into the game, Robinson was leading the team with .42 points per minute in conference play. He also had not turned the ball over which is a stark contrast from non-conference play where he was dismal at best in most categories. He contributed 8 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist in the first half as Indiana went up 39-34 as they headed into the locker room.
Robert Johnson kicked off the second half with another trey, but Indiana really struggled to put Penn State away for a good portion of the second half. Lacking energy and rebounding effort, Coach Crean turned to walk on Ryan Burton to try and spark the Hoosiers - and spark them he did. He contributed three offensive boards in a very key 5 minute stretch that saw Indiana go from a 51-51 tie to a 67-55 lead - and one in which they would never look back from. Burton may have said it best after the game - "That is just want this program is all about. Play on demand. Just try and come in and bring a lot of energy." Burton certainly did that last night and it may have been the ultimate key to this Hoosier victory.
"That is just want this program is all about. Play on demand. Just try and come in and bring a lot of energy." ~ Ryan Burton
Stan Robinson also continued to play well during that stretch - both offensively and defensively and Indiana was able to hold the B1G's leading scorer, D.J. Newbill, without a point in the second half until the 5:37 minute mark. Troy Williams was also terrific both with his own offense and the feeding of others while slashing to the basket - a key to any Hoosier success this season. Indiana would barely hold on 76-73 in this one (as a PSU three went in just after the buzzer sounded) in what was a decent first effort without Hanner Mosquera-Perea. So what did we learn from last night's contest against Penn State?
There isn't a simple answer to the Indiana big man debate - Fans have wanted Coach Crean to start Emmitt Holt for some time now, but it just isn't that simple. Holt is still a freshman and one who got onto the team very late. He has had some great moments this year, but that is not necessarily indicative of what you are going to get every night. I thought it was a good move by Coach Crean to start Hartman instead and bring Holt off the bench later, and as it turned out - Hartman struggled early before hitting two key treys down the stretch to finish with 8 points and 5 rebounds. Holt finished with 1 point and 0 rebounds and was not really effective at any point during this contest. With Hanner Mosquera-Perea, the Hoosiers had a problem down low. Without Perea - they may have a calamity down low, especially with teams such as Maryland, Purdue, Ohio State, and Wisconsin on the calendar in the next month who all have multiple big men to throw at the Hoosiers. Indiana lost the points in the paint last night 44-26 which pretty much tells you what the story down low may be for the next month. Indiana will need to reinvent itself once again to try and cover up that deficiency, and I wouldn't put it past them to do just that. However, there is no doubt it will cause further inconsistency and that is going to cause a roller coaster ride for many fans.
Robert Johnson may be the most consistent player on the floor - While other players have been seemingly up and down this season, Johnson has been fairly consistent and a calm presence on the floor. He saved the Hoosiers at Nebraska when things were heading downhill at the start of that one, and he was essentially the only early offense last night against Penn State. He was able to hit several three pointers while also finishing at the rim multiple times. He has proven to be a great floor general as well when Kevin Yogi Ferrell is off the court and has clearly proven he is the point guard of the future in Bloomington. When Penn State was climbing back into the game late - it was Robert Johnson who stopped the bleeding with a key trey at the 3:53 mark giving Indiana a 7 point cushion. He finished 7 of 11 for 20 points in what was his best output of the season to date. Without his performance last night, Indiana is looking at another bad defeat against Penn State.
Troy Williams may be playing his way into the NBA Draft - Yes, it is way too early to begin discussing this right now, but Williams is playing outstanding basketball lately. He finally seems to be mostly under control on the fast break and is making great decisions leading to easy baskets for himself and other teammates. He has also started to hit a mid-range jump shot which is key for him to go to the next level. Coming into the season, I thought Williams had a decent chance of moving on after this year, but he really struggled after returning from his 4 game suspension. The turning point was really the Butler game in mid-December and outside of Michigan State (where the entire team was dismal), he has been fantastic. He finished 7 of 12 for 15 points last night to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Everyone was looking for him to become the next Victor Oladipo which was a lot of ask of the sophomore - but he is looking more and more like Victor every game now and if that continues he could be a first round pick by the end of the season - and I don't think that is a tremendous stretch.
The Hoosiers will return to the court at the other Assembly Hall when they take on Illinois Sunday afternoon in another key road tilt. The Fighting Illini do not have a ton of depth down low either, so it could be a chance for Indiana to steal another road game early on in this conference season.