BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana has figured out how to win with style — Archie Miller’s style.
The Hoosiers have embraced the tough, defensive-minded concept of their new coach and it paid off big-time Sunday.
On a day Robert Johnson scored 17 points and Josh Newkirk had 12, the Hoosiers used an 18-0 second-half run and tenacious defense to pull away from Northwestern 66-46 for their third consecutive win.
“We’re not always perfect, we’re not always great but it’s going to be a staple. It’s something we’ve got to have,” Miller said after career win No. 150. “You have to have a grittiness about you, a quickness about you when you play defense and, for the most part, I think we’re starting to look the part.”
It hasn’t been easy getting to this point.
Along the way, there have been losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne, to two ranked teams outside Bloomington and losses at unranked Michigan and Wisconsin.
But now the Hoosiers (11-7, 4-2 Big Ten) have matched their longest winning streak of the season, and they did it by digging deep when their best player, Juwan Morgan, went to the bench for the last 17:46 of the first half after drawing his second foul.
While it wasn’t always pretty, the Hoosiers dug deep and instead of blinking went toe-to-toe against a foe many believed would be headed back to the NCAA Tournament.
“On the defensive end it’s probably been our best game thus far,” Johnson said. “If we can build on that and continue to tighten a couple of things up on the offensive side, we’ll be in a good spot.”
Indiana’s defense has improved steadily this season and the Wildcats (11-8, 2-4) got an up-close look at the progression Sunday.
They shot an abysmal 24 percent from the field in the first half and finished at 26.8 percent, their second-worst mark of the season. They had 17 turnovers, no scorers in double figures and their lowest scoring total all season.
Vic Law and Isiah Brown each scored nine points as the Wildcats lost for the fourth time in six games.
And now they look like a team in trouble.
“I just didn’t see that coming from us offensively,” coach Chris Collins said. “I thought our defense gave us a chance in the first half and we just could never get in any rhythm. Frustrating game.”
The Hoosiers fought through Morgan’s absence in a dreadful first half. Indiana led 13-3 with 9:51 left and neither team hit 20 points until Collin Hartman’s 3-pointer with 2:20 to go.
But when Morgan returned in the second half, it didn’t take the Hoosiers long to pull away.
They quickly extended a 24-19 halftime lead to nine then followed the lead of Morgan and Johnson, who scored the first 12 points in the decisive run to turn a 33-26 contest into a 53-26 blowout.
Northwestern: Yes, the Wildcats have had some bad days this season. But with the midway point of the conference season quickly approaching, Northwestern needs to turn things around fast to save its tourney hopes.