Players on the Indiana bench cheer on their teammates during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska in Lincoln, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. Nebraska won 66-57. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Thursday, March 01, 2018 1:00 am
Rest came at right time for IU
Open Big Ten Tournament today after 5-day break
DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette
When: 9 p.m. today
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
Records: Indiana (16-14), Rutgers (14-18)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1250 AM
One of the main keys to Indiana's late-season improvement was a sharp rise in the team's effort level, which it will need to maintain to make a deep run in New York at the Big Ten Tournament.
All that extra energy expended takes a toll, and coach Archie Miller said Wednesday he could see that his team was tired in the last few games.
“We were beat up,” Miller said. “We were an exhausted group, not so much physically, but mentally, as well. It was a hard grind to get through January and February.”
The Hoosiers (16-14) will open the Big Ten Tournament tonight, after five days of rest following its regular-season finale Friday. Miller said his team took Saturday and Sunday off and was refreshed in practice Monday.
“Taking the weekend off and then watching us practice yesterday was kind of funny,” the first-year Indiana coach said. “We had guys that were just excited to be in the gym working again; (it's) just amazing sometimes when you have a couple days off just to reboot physically and mentally.”
Junior Juwan Morgan, who averaged 11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in two Big Ten Tournament games last season, concurred with his coach about the team's energy level after the time off.
“Everybody is really getting after it on both sides of the ball,” Morgan said of practice this week. “I think (the days off) really showed and it was infectious throughout the whole team.”
The Hoosiers enter the tournament as the No. 6 seed after going 9-9 in conference play. They'll face No. 14 seed Rutgers, which beat 11th-seeded Minnesota 65-54 on Wednesday night.
Miller said not knowing its opponent until so close to the game will give his team an opportunity to focus on itself, without worrying about a scouting report.
“It's not really about the opponent any more at this time of year,” he said. “So much of this time of the year is about you and how confident you are and how good you feel about what you're doing.”
Indiana played the Scarlet Knights (14-18) in early February and won easily.
“We don't have to dig back that far into our memory to remember some of the things that we did against (Rutgers) that work well and some of the things that didn't go so well,” senior guard Robert Johnson said. “So I definitely think it's a good thing (we're playing them).”
The conference tournament is a week earlier than usual this season, which was necessitated by a change in venue.
For the first time in its history, the tournament will be played in Madison Square Garden. In order to play the tournament there, the conference had to condense its schedule, which was a major factor in making the last two months the “grind” that Miller described.
Johnson and fellow seniors Collin Hartman and Tim Priller have already played two games in Madison Square Garden. The Hoosiers lost to Louisville and beat Georgetown there in 2014, when the three players were freshmen.
“I just feel like, playing there in the mecca of basketball is always fun, as far as the atmosphere,” Johnson said. “Just everything surrounding the excitement of playing in New York (is fun).”
If Indiana wins today, it will move on to the quarterfinals, where it will face No. 8 Purdue (26-5). A win there could lead to a third matchup this season with No. 14 Ohio State in the semifinals. The Buckeyes beat Indiana 80-78 in double overtime Friday.