A favorable early portion to the Big Ten schedule could have Indiana off to a strong start as it tries for its first conference title since 2001-02. All the Hoosiers need to do is take advantage of it.
After surviving a test in its opener, the 10th-ranked Hoosiers look for a more dominating effort as they visit lowly Michigan on Tuesday night.
Indiana (12-1, 1-0 Big Ten) won 79-76 at Iowa on Wednesday in its Big Ten opener. The Hoosiers needed an 11-1 second-half run to break open a game that was tied at half, then held off a late Iowa rally to win their eighth straight game since losing 80-65 to Xavier on Nov. 24.
While the Hoosiers, who are expected to battle No. 6 Michigan State for the conference title, understand it’s tough to win on the road, they expected to play much better, especially on defense.
Indiana allowed more points than the 63.2 per game it gives up for the first time in five contests, and the Hawkeyes shot 43.1 percent—the first time in five games an opponent shot better than 40.0 percent.
“We’ve just got to play tougher,” Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson said. “I think as the Big Ten season goes along, our guys, especially new guys, see the intensity level that these games are played at.
“I think this experience will help us for the next game.”
Indiana shouldn’t have trouble handling a Michigan team that has lost four in a row and eight of its last nine. After the Wolverines (4-10, 0-2), Indiana returns home to face struggling Illinois on Sunday. The Hoosiers then play at Minnesota, prior to hosting Penn State and Iowa. Their first true league test comes at No. 21 Wisconsin on Jan. 31.
“It is good we got that one under our belts,” Sampson said. “We have three out of our first four on the road, so we’ll get road-tough real fast.”
Eric Gordon didn’t disappoint in his Big Ten debut. The star freshman who averages 23.5 points, scored 25 on 7-for-12 shooting.
“This is my first big time road win. I’m used to watching it on TV,” said Gordon, who’s averaging 24.5 points in four games away from Assembly Hall. “I just have to get used to it.”
D.J. White had 16 points and recorded a season-high 15 rebounds for the second straight contest for his eighth double-double in his last nine contests.
Though Gordon and White will be ready to help Indiana try to open 2-0 in the Big Ten for the second time in three seasons, starting guard Armon Bassett could miss Tuesday’s contest with an ankle injury.
Michigan, meanwhile, lost 65-58 at Purdue on Saturday. The Wolverines haven’t started 0-3 in conference play since 1990-91.
Freshman Manny Harris had a season-high 25 points for Michigan, which shot 36.8 percent—the third straight game it failed to shoot better than 40.0 percent.
“In the Big Ten, you really can’t have a letdown against any team,” forward Ron Coleman said. “We just have to get mentally tougher.”
Michigan snapped an 11-game losing streak to Indiana with a 58-55 home win over the then-No.24 Hoosiers on Feb. 17 to split the series in 2006-07.