BLOOMINGTON – It wasn't pretty, but the Hoosiers survived against UC-Davis. They have Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford to thank for that. The team's two best players combined for 51 points (including a monster 31 from Morgan) and helped Indiana turned a 14-point first-half deficit into a 19-point lead late in the game. Indiana eventually won 76-62 to avoid the biggest upset of the season to this point.
Indiana is a deep team (when healthy) with a lot of pieces that can contribute to wins. At this point in the season, however, it seems the Hoosiers will mostly rise and fall on Morgan and Langford. Those are the two players best able to get their own shot, best able to score points in bunches, best able to spark their teammates when they need it most. They did all of that and more tonight.
"When you're in these type of games, when you're possession-by-possession, you're trying to claw your way to get those guys the ability to catch the ball where we want to get it and be able to play through those guys," coach Archie Miller said of Morgan and Langford.
"Those two guys have confidence. It was a good week for our team to earn two hard-fought wins when we haven't played particularly great. You're not always going to play great and I think the rest of this month and December is going to be a real challenge. So to be able to have a couple tough, hard-fought wins is good."
Morgan was the brighter star Friday, keeping Indiana from getting run out of the building in the first half with 19 points. Indiana fell behind 24-10 at one juncture, but Morgan was dominant the rest of the period and helped close the gap to two at halftime. His spurt of 15 straight points was probably the most impressive stretch from an Indiana player so far this season.
Not only was Morgan able to pour in 31 points, he also did so in a manner that should have Indiana fans excited. The senior forward nailed 5 of 7 3-pointers after never making more than three 3s in any previous college game. If he can start hitting from the outside, he'll be one of the most dangerous players in the Big Ten. With Langford's ability to get to the hoop almost at will, the pair would form a lethal inside-outside combo.
"He's worked very, very hard on it," Miller said of Morgan's outside shooting. "Something we spent a lot of time on in the off-season. You know, I think he's a much more confident shooter right now than he's ever been and I thought it showed tonight with his ability to let it go, and you know, it was good to see. ... He's a good shooter and I think when he takes good ones, he has a chance to make them."
Langford was a bit tentative to start the game, not taking his first shot from the field until almost 15 minutes had run off the clock, but he finished with 20, including 12 in the second half. With the Aggies defense understandably focusing on Morgan, the freshman was able to get to the rim almost any time he wanted and hit 2 of 3 from beyond the arc, another positive sign going forward.
Although the Hoosiers had to gut out a win against UC-Davis, a good portion of the discussion after the game was about the next matchup. That's natural: the Hoosiers are going on the road to take on the No. 1 team in the country when they travel to Durham, N.C. to play Duke next Tuesday. Indiana will have to improve mightily on defense if it's going to compete with the high-powered Blue Devils, but hitting 10 of 17 from beyond the arc, as the Hoosiers did Friday, would help.
Indiana was hesitant to talk in specifics about facing Duke, but it was obvious the players were excited.
"It will be fun," Morgan said. "It's us versus them. I can't wait to get there and the ball is in the air, the jump ball. There's not really much more I can say. I'm just excited.
"They are a great team, but I feel we're a great team, so it should be a good game."