BLOOMINGTON – After Indiana's closer-than-it-should-have-been win against Portland State, Archie Miller said he wanted more "toughness" from his team on defense. If the first half of this game is any indication, he will have some similar thoughts in tonight's post-game press conference.
Once again, the Hoosiers have let a lesser team hang around because they haven't been firing on all cylinders defensively. The Lions hit six of their first seven 3-pointers because IU was a bit slow in its rotations and close-outs. That allowed North Alabama to lead 10 minutes into the game and the outside shooting has kept the game relatively close going into the second half. Overall, the Lions shot 54% in he first half.
It hasn't been all bad news for Indiana on the defensive end. When UNA has ventured inside the 3-point line, it has been met with fierce resistance. Trayce Jackson-Davis already has two blocks, while Al Durham added a clean, highlight-reel swat on a drive. Even better, sophomore Robert Phinisee looks like his old self on defense, staying in front of the ball with good footwork, fighting through screens and closing out well.
The offense has been a similar mixed bag for the Hoosiers, although there have arguably been more positive moments on that end of the floor. The highlights on offense begin with Jerome Hunter. The redshirt freshman, who missed all of 2018-19 with a leg injury, is quickly becoming one of Indiana's most important players off the bench, bringing a versatile offensive game that creates matchups issues for opponents. He went 3 for 5 from the field in the first half for seven points, including a 3-pointer and an easy right-handed hook off a post-up. The 3-pointer is especially important for the Hoosiers because, with Devonte Green out, they have precious little outside shooting. Hunter has a smooth stroke and he's confident from beyond the arc.
Another positive development has been the play of Jackson-Davis offensively. Miller wanted him to be more "forceful" and he has been, looking for his shot and getting to the rim. The Lions don't really have anyone who can stop him and the freshman has eight points, all on free throws, in the first half. When you combine that offensive production and aggressiveness with his propensity for big-time blocks on defense, Jackson-Davis is already a valuable player at this level, even though he hasn't yet begun to refine his outside game. He's simply more athletic than almost anyone else on the court and he can use that to his advantage as he gets used to college basketball.
The issue for Indiana offensively has been sloppiness. The Hoosiers turned the ball over nine times, including three in the first three minutes of the game. Those issues abated slightly when Phinisee entered the game at point guard in place of freshman Armaan Franklin, but it was still disappointing to see Indiana come out lacking some cohesiveness offensively in the early going. When the Hoosiers are able to hold on to the ball and get a shot off, it's usually a good one; Indiana is shooting 55% from the field and has already attempted 20 free throws to six for the Lions. That disparity highlights Indiana's aggressiveness going to the rim, but it also means the Hoosiers should be leading by more than they are. Phinisee having 10 points and five assists at halftime is a good sign, however.