BLOOMINGTON – Indiana opened its 120th season and the third year of the Archie Miller Era on Tuesday night at Assembly Hall with an easy 98-65 win over Western Illinois.
Justin Smith led the Hoosiers with 24 points, tying a career-high, and seven rebounds. Aljami Durham added 21 points on 7-for-7 shooting in front of an announced crowd of 17,222.
“Opening night, it's always nice to get the season off on a good night,” coach Archie Miller said. “For our guys, there's a lot of newness out there, a lot of inexperience, a lot of question marks about what's going to happen on game night.
“For us to be able to win the game, I'm excited about that and our team should be, as well. We've got a lot of ways to go.”
The game changed for good midway through the first half, when Indiana (1-0) went on an 18-0 spurt that turned a 15-12 Hoosiers deficit into a 30-15 lead in a span of just 3:44. The run featured six points from Smith, two coming on a pretty alley-oop on a perfect pass from sophomore guard Robert Phinisee, who scored five points during the run, including a corner 3-pointer.
By halftime it was 46-25 and Indiana cruised down the stretch.
The Hoosiers made eight straight shots during the big run, while Western Illinois (0-1) missed seven straight and struggled to get any good looks at the hoop as Indiana turned up the defensive intensity.
Phinisee said defense was the key to the run.
“We had a couple steals and Trayce (Jackson-Davis) and Justin had a couple of blocks too, and we got out in transition and that's where we're at our best,” he said.
Smith was indeed one of the key catalysts for the run because of his work on defense. The 6-foot-7 junior was so good on defense that Miller said he didn't even notice Smith had 24 points because he was so focused on that aspect of the forward's game.
The native of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, added three steals and two blocks to his stat line and got several easy layups and dunks as a result of his defensive activity.
Echoing Phinisee's point about getting out and running, Smith emphasized that fast-break offense will be key for him this season.
“I feel like I'm at my best in transition,” Smith said. “Being able to create turnovers and really get out and run, use my athleticism, it will really benefit our team. Just in general, we've got to use defense to create offense, especially with the versatility we have, the kind of athletes that we have.”
The Hoosiers showed off their depth against Western Illinois, using 10 players in the first half, including four making their Indiana debuts: Jackson-Davis, Armaan Franklin, Joey Brunk and Jerome Hunter.
All four had notable moments, especially Jackson-Davis, who finished with eight points, six rebounds and four blocks, and Franklin, who had a team-best eight assists and no turnovers.
As Miller said, there was plenty of newness for the Hoosiers, but the first-game jitters didn't seem to last past the opening few minutes.
“They just got to get more experience, more toughness into what they're doing,” Miller said of the three newcomers to the program – Jackson-Davis, Franklin and Brunk.
“Because I think all three are really right now big impact guys in terms of adding new weapons to the fold.”