|No. 22 Indiana, surging Maryland clash to keep pace in Big Ten|
It's way too early for "must-win" basketball games, but Friday's Big Ten clash between No. 22 Indiana and upstart Maryland in Xfinity Center seems like a pretty big tilt on the January calendar.
The Hoosiers (12-3, 3-1) are coming off their first Big Ten conference setback, a 74-63 loss at No. 2 Michigan, that snapped Indiana's seven-game winning streak. Still, both the Hoosiers and surprising Maryland (13-3, 4-1) find themselves a game back of Big Ten bullies Michigan and Michigan State as the conference race takes shape.
Tipoff is 7 p.m. on Friday.
"We can't get caught up in one loss," said IU coach Archie Miller. "We have to get caught up in getting better, which is what we'll do."
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, with a rotation that features five freshmen and two sophomores among his top eight, has similar sentiments.
The Terrapins just picked up a fourth consecutive victory and a second Big Ten road pelt with an 82-67 victory at Minnesota on Tuesday. It's already as many road conference wins as Maryland had all of last season.
"These young guys were out there playing and letting (junior guard) Anthony Cowan do his thing," said Turgeon after the win. "We just keep getting better. Don't sleep on the fact that when we made our run we had four freshmen in there with Anthony. Those guys just keep getting better and better."
Cowan equaled a career high with 27 points against the Gophers, 23 in the second half, as Maryland and their "Terrapin Towers" (sophomore Bruno Fernando and freshman Jalen Smith, both 6-feet-10) overpowered Minnesota.
Smith, Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Week the week before last, had a career high 21 points to go with eight rebounds. He is averaging 17.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in his last five games and hit the game-winner in a 72-70 upset of No. 24 Nebraska in Xfinity Center.
But Indiana has some star power, too, in senior forward Juwan Morgan and freshman guard Romeo Langford, who garnered the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award last week after averaging 22.5 points, six rebounds and 2.5 assists in two games, including a career high 28 points against Illinois.
The 6-8 Morgan was a bright spot at Michigan with 25 points and eight rebounds, his fourth 20-plus points performance this season. Indiana is second in the country, shooting 51.9 percent from the field, but it hasn't prevented the Hoosiers from some slow starts in games, including trailing 21-9 out of the gates in Ann Arbor.
That's a trend Miller knows has to change.
"We're not running hard enough at the start of the race," said Miller. "We have to come out of the gates more disciplined offensively. We can't play catch up."
The young Terrapins are learning similar lessons.
They trailed by eight at Minnesota before Turgeon switched to a 2-3 zone and Cowan took over. Freshman Ricky Lindo, Jr., was a big hero with six points, six rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 14 minutes off the bench.
"In close games we haven't played the last seven minutes very well, right?" Turgeon said. "Today, we finally did, so it's a step in the right direction."
Turgeon is still looking for the right combinations off that bench, but that may be an even bigger issue for Miller and IU at this juncture.
Injuries to redshirt freshman forward Race Thompson, freshman shooting phenom Rob Phinisee and freshman forwards Jerome Hunter and Jake Forrester, have diminished what once looked like a deep Hoosiers bench.
Against Michigan, no IU sub even scored. Point guard Phinesee, who is hitting nearly 45 percent from 3-point range, could be back this week.
--Field Level Media