Indiana has had no problem getting leads this season. It's keeping them that has been the issue.
The Hoosiers have had second-half leads in nine of their 10 games, but have only won six of them, letting advantages get away against Florida State, Northwestern and Illinois. Against Penn State on Wednesday, it took overtime to pull out a victory, despite IU leading by as many as 12 in the second half.
“We've just gotta be locked in, especially the last eight minutes of the game,” forward Trayce Jackson-Davis said. “We've talked about that a lot, we've been really good for 32-34 minutes and then the last eight minutes is when teams start to get going or start scoring, so that's a big key for us and making sure we're staying locked in.”
The Hoosiers have their next opportunity to play a full 40 minutes tonight, when they take on Maryland at Assembly Hall. The Terrapins have a road victory over then-No. 6 Wisconsin, but are otherwise winless in the Big Ten and have matched Indiana's 6-4 overall record.
Fatigue is one possible explanation for Indiana's late-game stumbles. Coach Archie Miller has repeatedly expressed his desire to lengthen his bench and get more players involved to give his starters more rest, but some of the younger players have not yet progressed to where they can be fully trusted to play significant minutes. Miller said it is his job to stick with them through growing pains. He mentioned uber-athletic, raw forward Jordan Geronimo as one player who “needs to” play more.
“There is no question about it, it is a commitment to the bench,” Miller said of what it will take to build depth. “It is a commitment to the rotation. You have to find a way to give guys more confidence. They have to earn it while they are in the game and do well. The coach has to stick to it a little bit and be able to play through it good or bad.”
At the same time, the fourth-year coach wants some of his best players to be a little better at finishing games even if they're tired. He has sensed some drop-off in defensive intensity at the end of games and that can't happen if the Hoosiers are going to survive in the Big Ten.
“This is college basketball,” Miller said. “This isn't an 82-game season. I think if you look around the country you are going to see a lot of teams playing six, seven, eight guys. A lot of guys (are) playing 35 minutes and they are getting it done. With us we need to have a better mindset in terms of finishing.
“We have really taken a step down defensively in the second half of games. To me there are a couple things that can address it. Sub out, No. 1. No. 2, we need a much more concentrated effort in terms of being able to play through it. There are a lot of guys averaging more minutes than some of the guys on our team and I don't see any of them having a problem.”
After being led by dominant big men Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith in recent seasons, Maryland is a wing-heavy team this year, with its top four scorers all between 6-foot-5 and 6-7. The Terrapins, coming off an 84-73 home loss against Michigan on Thursday, will be without senior guard Darryl Morsell, who suffered a facial fracture against the Wolverines that required surgery.
Sophomore Hakim Hart, averaging 9.1 points and shooting 51.6% from the field, will start in Morsell's place.
As has been the case all season, Indiana will be without center Joey Brunk. Brunk had surgery for a nagging back injury last week and is out indefinitely. Miller said it's not certain Brunk will be out for the season, but it's clear he won't play for the foreseeable future.
That puts just a little bit more pressure on Indiana's stars, like Jackson-Davis, who embraces that role.
“No one has really seen us play our best basketball yet,” the 2019 Indiana Mr. Basketball said. “Once it starts clicking for us, I think we're going to be really tough to beat.”
When: 8 p.m.
Where: Assembly Hall, Bloomington
Records: Indiana (6-4, 1-2 Big Ten), Maryland (6-4, 1-3)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 92.3 FM