Even before tipoff Tuesday against the Spartans, Indiana had already fallen behind.
To the surprise of many Indiana fans, IU head coach Tom Crean announced during his pre-game radio show that senior forward Will Sheehey would not play at the Breslin Center due to an ankle injury that he suffered during IU's Saturday loss to Northwestern. Sheehey said after that game that he's had a history of bad ankles, and it shouldn't be a big deal.
But Crean said in his post-game press conference Tuesday that after his team's shoot-around Tuesday, it was clear that Sheehey wasn't going to be able to go.
"I'm proud of the way we played without Will. We didn't know that as the case until today because of the injury," Crean said.
"We weren't gonna press it. He wasn't close to being able to go today."
In his place, Crean decided to give sophomore forward Austin Etherington his first start as a Hoosier. Freshman guard Stanford Robinson also saw his first starting role in replace of senior guard Evan Gordon. Crean was very critical of Gordon's 3-point attempt late in Saturday's loss to Northwestern, but it's unclear if the switch had anything to do with Crean's disappointment in Gordon or Robinson's rising play lately.
Senior forward Jeff Howard was the first man to come off the bench for the Hoosiers, playing 19 minutes while grabbing just one rebound and adding one assist to his two points.
Sophomore forward Jeremy Hollowell came off the bench for his first playing time since IU's first loss to Michigan State 17 days before. He scored eight points on 2-of-3 shooting along with 4-of-4 free throw shooting.
Freshman forward Devin Davis saw his first double-digit minutes since the first Michigan State game, logging 10 minutes. Crean said after Saturday's game that he had struggled finding time for Davis while playing so many other players, but with Sheehey on the bench, Davis found his time, putting up one point, one block and one steal.
Vonleh continuing to thrive beyond the arc
Freshman forward Noah Vonleh hit just 1-of-6 3-pointers during non-conference play this season, missing his first four attempts. Since, he's been 9-for-12 from beyond the arc. Four games in a row, he's made at least one bomb in the first six minutes of the game, and in each of the past two contests, a Vonleh 3-pointer has been IU's first bucket.
Tuesday night, in was the 6-foot-10-inch forward's trey from the top of the key that gave IU an early 3-0 lead before his second jumper of the game made it 5-0.
His 3-point shooting percentage of 55.56 is better than all but two shooters in the country who are averaging at least two attempts per game – which Vonleh isn't, but his hidden talent is quickly becoming one of his biggest weapons.
Crean, though, said after Tuesday's game that he hopes Vonleh's confort shooting the 3-pointer doesn't interfere his desire to get to the glass for points in the paint and rebounds. Tuesday, Vonleh grabbed just two offensive rebounds for the Hoosiers.
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo agreed with Crean.
"I think he's gotta get fouled more, but he was a horse tonight, and we didn't guard him well," Izzo said. "I hope the pound it into him, because he's a load down there."
Hoosiers' debut fourth different starting lineup of season
With Sheehey hurt, Hollowell still sitting and one of the starting guard positions up for grabs, Crean put his fourth different starting lineup on the court to face Michigan State Tuesday evening. During the first 15 games, Crean used only two – pulling Hollowell in a game against Evansville in favor of Howard for the starting role.
But since Howard's benching, Crean sported a lineup of Yogi Ferrell, Vonleh, Troy Williams, Sheehey and Gordon for three games before going with Etherington and Robinson instead of Gordon and Sheehey Tuesday.
In total, nine IU players have now started a game this season. Last season, the Hoosiers thrived on essentially the same starting lineup all season – Jordan Hulls, Ferrell, Victor Oladipo, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller – with one exception where Sheehey replaced Watford against Sam Houston State.